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Eyewitness lineups may lead to wrongful convictions

On Behalf of | Feb 12, 2020 | Criminal Defense

In some criminal cases, the prosecution will ask any witnesses involved in the case to choose the suspect out of a lineup. Yet, when witnesses and/or victims of a crime make their selection, the results may be inaccurate. Errors made during this tedious process can have a major impact on peoples’ lives, as they may lead to the wrongful conviction and incarceration of innocent people. The Innocence Project reported that eyewitness misidentification was in part or fully to blame for at least 71% of wrongful convictions, involving people released from prison after DNA evidence proved their innocence.

There are many factors that can alter a person’s perception or ability to choose the correct person out of a physical lineup. A few include the following:

  • Inadvertent leading of the witness by the lineup administrator
  • Amount of time that has passed from when the crime occurred until the lineup
  • Whether the race of the perpetrator differs from that of the witness
  • Whether there was a weapon used in the crime
  • Amount of light present when the crime occurred
  • Distance the witness was standing from the actual crime and whether anything inhibited their ability to see clearly

The lineup administrator may press the witness to make a choice from the people in the lineup, even if the witness is not sure of their decision. Instead, the administrator should alert the witness that the suspect may or may not be present in the lineup. Lineup organization can also play a large role in eyewitness misidentification. There should always be more than one person present in the lineup matching the perpetrator’s description. Furthermore, taping the proceedings can help clear up any question of wrongdoing or leading of the witness.