New Lineup Law Still Has Skeptics

A new study on police lineups finds that accuracy is ensured when crime victims are given the opportunity to view one suspect at a time.

The study was conducted by the American Judicature Society, in conjunction with the Police Foundation, the Innocence Project and several other organizations. Four law enforcement agencies, including the Austin Police Department, took part in the national research.

It found that double-blind sequential lineups — lineups where the administering officer doesn’t know which person is the suspect and the witness views one suspect photograph at a time, produce fewer mistaken identifications than lineup procedures that present all suspects at once, or simultaneously.

Dr. Gary Wells is director of the AJS’s Center of Forensic Science and Public Policy. He says the study had all the entities come together to test new ways to improve the reliability and credibility of eyewitness evidence.

“The idea that led to testing of the sequential lineup, came from the observation that when eyewitnesses view a simultaneous lineup, they tend to compare lineup members to each other, and decide who looks most like their memory of the perpetrator, and then identify that person. That’s what’s known as a relative judgment process that is, who looks most like the perpetrator, relative to the others in the lineup.”

The study is proof that witnesses who view double-blind sequential lineups are just as likely to pick the suspect.

Dr. Nicole Casarez with the Innocence Project of Texas, is an attorney who teaches media law at the University of St. Thomas. She says crime victims are under a lot of stress trying to identify a suspect.

“Another factor that plays into wrongful eyewitness identifications, is the fact that we do even worse in identifying people of a different race. So in a cross-cultural identification situation, our recollection and our ability to distinguish people is even worse if the perpetrator was of the same race as the victim.”

Chief Art Acevedo heads the Austin Police Department, which has implemented double-blind sequential lineups. He calls the study a step in the right direction.

“Although as an organization we’re not a hundred percent there, in terms of saying that this is the only way to do it, we really believe that by having those policies and having some consistency. I’m excited  go to the next phase with the DA’s office.”

Although Texas lawmakers passed a law changing the way police lineups are handled, debate remains as to which method ensures greater accuracy. Participants in the study will continue their analysis of the data collected.