In years past, eyewitness lineups have provided a way for witnesses to select a perpetrator from a line of potential suspects. The eyewitness lineup process has on multiple occasions, however, failed to produce accurate results. In some cases, the person identified as a perpetrator from an eyewitness lineup is falsely accused and possibly convicted of a crime they did not commit. Erroneous procedures in the lineup process have been investigated and some law enforcement departments have identified ways to make the process more reliable.
One common mistake involves the lineup administrator, or the person responsible for directing the witness through the process. Unless the administrator does not have any knowledge of the case, he or she may inadvertently give cues pressuring the witness to choose a specific person from the lineup. The administrators should also follow a script to ensure they do not give any misinformation. This includes telling the witness that the suspect may or may not be present in the lineup.
The lineup process should be taped, so the judge and/or jury can review the case if needed. Lineup organization should also be conducted in such a way that there is more than one person that matches the suspect’s description. For instance, if the perpetrator has a beard, there should be more than one person in the lineup with a beard.
Other factors, such as the amount of time that has elapsed since the crime occurred, whether a weapon was involved and the race of the perpetrator, can all influence the reliability of eyewitness identification.