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The accuracy of police lineups

On Behalf of | Apr 14, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Defense |

Law enforcement officers in North Carolina have used police lineups for decades to narrow their search for criminal suspects. However, this practice has faced heavy scrutiny in recent times from officials concerned with both the accuracy and procedure regarding police lineups. Individuals who are the target of a criminal investigation should familiarize themselves with law enforcement views and uses for lineups.

Lineups and procedures

The lineup term is used both for live lineups and photo lineups. Witnesses taking part in a live lineup will view a group of people to see if they can pick out a criminal suspect among them. The photo lineup is not much different. But witnesses view a group of photos instead of people in front of them.

An independent administrator who is not part of the criminal investigation must conduct a lineup and must not know the identity of the suspect in the case. A lineup must include at least five people or photos other than the suspect. Witnesses must also understand the suspect may not among the people or pictures shown to them.

Problems with police lineups

Eyewitness testimony is critical evidence at a criminal trial. But criminal defense attorneys often point out that humans are fallible, and all eyewitness accounts are not accurate. One study of wrongly convicted inmates showed that 75% of wrongful convictions observed in the study happened due to inaccurate witness identifications. It is not difficult to understand how this can happen when you consider the speed at which crimes happen.

The stress likely experienced by the witness is also a factor. This point is more relevant in crimes involving weapons as the witness’ focus is likely to be on the gun or knife they see and not the perpetrator’s face.


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