We have all seen the process play out in TV crime dramas. A witness is brought into a dark room, surrounded by investigators working a criminal case. A lineup of men or women is brought into another room that the witness can see into through a one-way window.
To the general public that’s been the status quo and, therefore, is believed to be an effective strategy to use when identifying a criminal suspect. But according to a recent study that looks at the effective use of lineups, that standard type of lineup is a recipe for making an innocent person a criminal suspect.
Denver has reportedly taken research regarding lineups and adopted a lineup system that’s supposedly more effective. Researchers behind the most recent lineup study, however, hope that the study’s results will inspire more departments throughout the country to stop relying on the standard lineup strategy and try the suggested tactic.
Advocates for the more effective investigative strategy call the better lineup process a “sequential lineup.” Rather than witnesses looking at a group of potential suspects simultaneously (most of them innocent fillers) they look at one subject at a time. Supporters of the sequential lineup report that the strategy works better because it makes witnesses compare one person’s image to the image that the witness remembers. When looking at several people at one time, witnesses have a tendency to compare each person to another in the lineup.
The results of the recent lineup study were published by the American Judicature Society this week. The report indicates that in the study, the witnesses who were put through a sequential lineup process identified innocent fillers as their suspect 12 percent of the time, whereas simultaneous lineups put innocents at risk of criminal charges 18 percent of the time.
Sticking to tradition has its merits, but that is not always the case for something as serious as a criminal investigation. People’s futures, families and lives are on the line once they become the suspect of a crime. Sources report that currently only as many as 25 percent of the departments in the U.S. use sequential lineups, including Denver. If the different lineup strategy does truly protect innocent people from becoming crime suspects, then don’t you think more departments should put that point above tradition?
CBS News: “Traditional police lineups off base, study shows,” Sep. 19, 2011