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Judicially, criminal lineups are a big deal: Why?

If you are in criminal custody in Colorado and instructed to enter a room at the police station along with several other individuals to participate in a lineup, you might reasonably have some concerns.

There is an alleged eyewitness to criminal conduct -- e.g., a sex crime, drug deal or theft offense -- on the other side of that darkened glass partition. Who is that person? Is he or she credible? Will any forthcoming identification be accurate and confidently delivered? Might it be tainted by improper nudges or suggestions from police investigators?

Your concerns are noted. And, importantly, they are widely shared by judges, defense attorneys, law professors, justice advocates and legions of Americans who simply want to see fair outcomes materialize in the criminal law realm.

The lineup stage is deemed "critical" by U.S. courts. That means that a criminal suspect or defendant subjected to the lineup process in Colorado or elsewhere has the flat right to have legal counsel present for the proceeding.

Why is that considered so important?

A recent article highlighting lineup irregularities points to several reasons why lineup policies and practices are inherently concerning.

For starters, witnesses make mistakes. In fact, one study on inmates exonerated through DNA testing revealed that a stunning three-quarters of such cases featured eyewitness error.

And then there is subjectivity, coupled with ramped-up stress surrounding the process, which can collectively breed bias and send subtle signals that undermine truth. Perhaps one individual in a lineup is the only person who looks similar to a described suspect. Perhaps police officers viewing the lineup make comments that influence a witness to focus on a particular individual. Maybe a "that's him" judgment is uttered with only partial faith in its validity.

Many states have responded to lineup irregularities with legal enactments and guidelines that seek to promote enhanced objectivity. Colorado is among them. An experienced Denver criminal defense attorney can provide relevant information and, when necessary, diligent representation to any Colorado resident needing aggressive legal assistance.

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