Challenging a Biased Police Lineup

When reports of a crime become known, especially if it gets media attention, a number of people contact investigators claiming to have information. Often, people will say they know what the alleged perpetrator looks like and/or where this person can be found. When police receive information about a possible criminal suspect, this person is typically brought in for questioning. One should seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney before participating in police questioning as a possible suspect. Eyewitness identifications have long been used by police investigators to solve crimes, despite their known unreliability and the availability of other investigative methods. Numerous examples exist of the wrong person being identified and convicted for a crime he/she did not commit. A recent article discussed the high rate of error among child eyewitness identifications, and a new procedure designed to increase their accuracy. Police lineups are often used as an identification tool during an investigation, and are subject to bias if conducted improperly. Eyewitness identification is a powerful piece of evidence, and if there is any indication a police lineup was biased or unfair, this evidence can and must be challenged in court. A discussion of how police lineups can be tainted, and grounds by which to challenge this type of evidence, will follow below.

Reliable vs. Tainted Lineup

Lineups are not automatically problematic, but they must be set up and conducted fairly so the witness identification is not influenced by police input. While it is not possible to completely remove concerns about the reliability of lineup identification, the presence of the following procedures give the lineup a greater degree of neutrality:

  • presenting suspects one at a time, instead of all at once;
  • holding a double-blind lineup, which means the officer conducting it does not know which participant is the suspect;
  • telling the witness the lineup may not include the person he/she saw; and
  • allowing the suspect to exercise his/her right to counsel at the lineup.

On the other hand, indications that the lineup could be tainted or biased, and raise suspicions of police misconduct, include:

  • arranging the lineup so the suspect stands out from the other participants (dress, lighting);
  • forming a lineup where the suspect is the only person similar to the witness' description; and
  • suggesting to the witness who to choose.

Challenging an Identification at a Police Lineup

Challenging a lineup identification can occur at two points – before trial as part of the pretrial process, or objecting to the evidence at trial. If the challenge comes before trial, the typical procedure is to hold a separate hearing on this issue with the judge to present evidence on the unfairness of the lineup, and ask that the case be dismissed. Eyewitness identifications are frequently the foundation of a criminal case, and if the accuracy of the identification is called into question, the rest of the prosecution's evidence may not be enough to sustain the charge. At the hearing, the defense must convince the judge that the lineup procedure was improperly suggestive, and thus unreliable, based upon the points discussed above. If the court will not throw out the lineup, the defense is entitled to present expert testimony at trial on the inherent unreliability of eyewitness identifications, and the psychological reasons someone would pick the wrong person. Presenting this type of testimony gives the defense an opportunity to convince the jury this evidence should not be given much weight.

Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney

Being placed in a police lineup as a potential suspect is a nerve-racking experience, and could bring life-altering consequences. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side will help ensure the procedure is fair, and that your rights are protected. The Los Angeles firm Manshoory Law Group, APC offers the commitment and attention clients need so they know the attorneys are sincerely interested in helping them. Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Handling a wide variety of minor to major crimes, contact us today for a free consultation.

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