innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Controversy Over Line Up Procedures

This article originally ran in the New York Times on April 19, 2006:

The police lineup is a time-honored staple of crime solving, not to mention of countless cop movies and television shows like "Law and Order." Each year, experts estimate, 77,000 people nationwide are put on trial because witnesses picked them out of one.

In recent years many states and cities have moved to overhaul lineups, as DNA evidence has exposed nearly 200 wrongful convictions, three-quarters of them resulting primarily from bad eyewitness identification.

In the new method, the police show witnesses one person at a time, instead of several at once, and the lineup is overseen by someone not connected to the case, to avoid anything that could steer the witness to the suspect the police believe is guilty.

But now, the long-awaited results of an experiment in Illinois have raised serious questions about the changes. The study, the first to do a real-life comparison of the old and new methods, found that the new lineups made witnesses less likely to choose anyone. When they did pick a suspect, they were more likely to choose an innocent person.

Witnesses in traditional lineups, by contrast, were more likely to identify a suspect and less likely to choose a face put in the lineup as filler.

Advocates of the new method said the Illinois study, conducted by the Chicago Police Department, was flawed, because officers supervised the traditional lineups and could have swayed witnesses.

But the results have empowered many critics who had worried that states and cities were caving in to advocacy groups in adopting the new lineups without solid evidence that they improved on the old ones.

For the whole story, click here.

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