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Why are police lineups considered unreliable?

On Behalf of | Nov 7, 2022 | Criminal Defense

In theory, police lineups might seem like a straightforward way to identify suspects in crimes in Arkansas. However, there are reasons why they are not reliable. These problems make lineups sketchy.

How police lineups work

Depending on the situation, a police lineup can be conducted live with the suspect and volunteers who stand in a group against a wall. Sometimes, the lineup only consists of photos of the suspect and other people. Everyone who isn’t the suspect has nothing to do with the crime. The witness is brought in and asked to identify the suspect.

In some cases, both live and photo lineups take place at the same time. The witness is brought in to view the lineup while they stand there and view photos simultaneously.

Problems with police lineups

There are certain problems with police lineups that can render them unreliable. Sometimes, lineup participants look nothing like the description of the suspect given by the witness. Those participating should look at least similar to ensure that the witness chooses the right person. If others look drastically different, it’s unfair and a violation of the suspect’s rights.

Police often give witnesses hints as to which person in the lineup is the suspect. Sometimes, those hints are subtle such as gesturing with their head or eyes. In other instances, a police officer might make a comment to the witness such as “Take your time” if the witness seems to linger their focus on a person other than the suspect in the lineup. These hints can flaw the identification as the witness might feel pressured to make a choice.

Suspects have rights when placed in a lineup. One of them is to have an attorney present to ensure that police don’t step out of line and use bias as a way to force a witness to make a choice they might otherwise have not made. It can help prevent misidentification and freedom of suggestion. If the suspect’s rights are violated during the police lineup, a motion to suppress could exclude the identification from their trial.

Police lineups and witnesses are not perfect. If one of these issues arises, there are options to tackle them.