In many court trials across the United States, eyewitnesses are used to identify potential perpetrators of a crime. Suspects and fillers are made to stand in a lineup, while the eyewitness makes a physical identification. The problem lies in the fact that errors in the lineup identification process can lead to wrongful convictions and innocent people may be sent to prison for a crime they did not commit. According to the Innocence Project, 346 people were exonerated of their crimes after DNA evidence proved their innocence. Approximately 70 percent of those cases involved eyewitness identification and listed it as a contributing factor to the conviction error.
There are a myriad of things that can go wrong when witnesses are asked to choose a suspect from a lineup. First, the lineup administrator may inadvertently lead the witness to choose a specific person. Furthermore, the lineup may be organized in a way that promotes a person to stand out from the others. For example, if the suspect of a crime was said to have long hair and a tattoo, there should be more than one person in the lineup matching these characteristics. The witness should also be told that the suspect may or may not be present in the lineup, so he or she does not feel inclined to choose someone. Finally, all lineup procedures should be recorded so the judge and jury can review the process to ensure the procedures were handled correctly.
This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.