A new state law aimed at eliminating potential bias during criminal lineup proceedings is changing how witnesses identify suspects.
Under the old methods, just like in Law and Order or CSI, a group of potential suspects were lined up behind a one-way viewing station. The witness or victim would look at the lineup and tell a detective if anyone in the lineup is the suspect in question. It makes for great TV, but it has some real world drawbacks. Detectives can intentionally or inadvertently clue a witness to a potential suspect, and seeing the actual perpetrator in person can have emotional side effects. The new law hopes to eliminate all bias and potential witness pitfalls.
The new law requires that:
- All lineups are videotaped.
- Witnesses must be videotaped when viewing videotape or photo arrays of the lineup.
- A detective with no ties to the investigation must carry out the videotaping or lineup display.
“Having an independent administrator pretty much, unless done terribly incompetently, just resolves a whole bunch of questions,” said Roy Malpass, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Texas-El Paso and expert on witness identifications. “I think it’s worthwhile to have those questions off the table.” Without those safeguards, “you can’t answer the question of whether the officer did any pointing or made any gestures. They are questions that a good defense attorney is bound to ask.”
Like many other changes, the law went into effect on January 1. The hope is that any bias would be caught on camera, but the law does stipulate that the witness can refuse to be recorded while viewing the photo lineup.
“There’s no substitute for knowing what’s going on than seeing it,” said Karen Daniel, director of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. “We have the technology to do it. Everybody videotapes everything. Why would we not videotape these important procedures?”
While suspect identification can be a useful tool, it’s not a preferred method. Ideally authorities would be able to link the suspect to a scene using physical or DNA evidence, but witnesses can help get the ball rolling. That said, of the 325 convictions overturned by the Innocence Project, nearly three quarters involved a false identification.
Related source: Chicago Tribune