Lineups are often used as a mechanism for eyewitnesses to identify suspects in a crime. If you have ever watched a police procedural on TV, you know the drill. While lineups are used at both the state and federal levels, the fact is that eyewitness recollections are anything but foolproof and – as a result – lineups are similarly flawed. This is why skilled defense attorneys often challenge lineups and their results.
What Is in a Lineup
Lineups happen after the police have a suspect in custody, and they have been considered an acceptable practice for decades. The way a lineup works is that the police parade the suspect, along with several other men or women who have similar characteristics, in front of the eyewitness. Often, the men or women in the lineup are asked to repeat a line or to perform an action that took place in the course of the crime in question. The eyewitness is then asked to identify the perpetrator of the crime based on his or her own recollections. The problem is that eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable – not because they are trying to mislead but because memory is unpredictable (and perhaps for a number of other psychological reasons).
The Right to Have an Attorney Present
If you are required to participate in a lineup, it is your right to have your attorney present – and it is in your best interest to do so. If you are denied this right, any positive identification of you in the course of the lineup is inadmissible in court. The only exception to this is if the prosecution can prove that the eyewitness identification is directly related to an eyewitness observation that occurred outside of the lineup.
Due Process in Criminal Cases
If you have been charged with a crime, you have the right to due process, and this includes due process in relation to eyewitness identification. Because it is difficult to know if eyewitness testimony is absolutely accurate or not, due process concerns arise Even the most sincere eyewitnesses can be incorrect in their assessments, and any of the following issues can come into play:
Eyewitnesses can be unduly led by prosecutorial intervention.
Eyewitnesses can be extremely susceptible to the powers of the prosecution’s suggestion.
Because eyewitnesses are human, their memories are fallible.
Eyewitnesses of crimes typically want to help, and this desire can override other checks and balances on their memories.
Eyewitness Testimony and Exonerations
While it is established that eyewitness testimony can be flawed, it is important to consider the implications of this fact. With current, irrefutable DNA testing on existing evidence, convicts have been exonerated of heinous crimes that they were convicted of based upon eyewitness testimony. Misidentification happens.