You think police and prosecutors are interested in justice…thing again. A new study says the ways line-ups are conducted throughout Michigan likely to result in misidentifications.
The study released Monday by the American Judicature Society is part of a growing body of research during the past 35 years that questions the reliability of eyewitness identifications under certain circumstances. That research has been taken more seriously in recent years with the evolution of DNA evidence clearing innocents of crimes they were convicted of committing, often based on eyewitness testimony. We have all read in the news how a new person is released off death row, after being convicted of an offense “beyond a reasonable doubt,” he was actually innocent and wrongfully convicted. Unfortunately, the delay between the wrongful conviction and the exoneration is often decades.
The new study finds witnesses should not look at a group of people at once to pick a perpetrator. Instead, they should look at individuals one-by-one with a detective who doesn’t know which is the real suspect – known as a double-blind lineup to avoid giving witnesses unintentional cues – preferably on a computer to ensure appropriate random procedures are used and to record the data.
The study found witnesses using the sequential method were less likely to pick the innocents brought in to fill out the lineup. The theory is that witnesses using the sequential lineup will compare each person to the perpetrator in their memory, instead of comparing them to one another side-by-side to see which most resembles the criminal.
“What we want the witness to do is don’t decide who looks most like the perpetrator, but decide whether the perpetrator is there or not,” said Gary Wells, an eyewitness identification expert at Iowa State University and the project’s lead researcher.
Wells said the results confirmed many other laboratory experiments that have found sequential lineups to be more accurate. But he said some police departments have been reluctant to change their practices, wondering if they would apply to real-life witnesses. The truth is that police and prosecutors don’t care if they convict the wrong person, they just want to complete cases and move on to others. They figure that they get the right person most of the time and the ends justify the means. It’s sickening but it’s true.
This study used actual witnesses who didn’t know they were part of a study, but were randomly assigned to use either the sequential or the simultaneous method. It was conducted at the police departments in Austin, Texas; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.; San Diego and Tucson, Ariz.
The witnesses were shown mug shots of one suspect with five “fillers,” or the known innocents. In the simultaneous lineups, the witnesses picked a filler 18 percent of the time, versus 12 percent for the sequential method. Witnesses picked the suspect about a quarter of the time using both methods.
Wells estimates that between 20 and 25 percent of 16,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States are using the sequential and double-blind procedures. I’m not aware of any law enforcement agency in Michigan that consistently uses the double-blind procedures.
At Lewis & Dickstein, PLLC, the premier Michigan Criminal Defense Law Firm, we closely look at our cases where there are alleged eye-witnesses. While many defense lawyers just assume their clients are being untruthful when there is eye witness evidence, we understand that these procedures are severely flawed and misidentifications regularly occur. Even in those cases where our client desires to enter a plea, we understand that challenging an eye witness identification can result in a more beneficial plea bargain or a more lenient sentence.
If you are charged with a crime in the State of Michigan, you need to call us for a free consultation at (248) 263-6800 or fill out a Request for Assistance Form
and a top Michigan Criminal Defense Lawyer will promptly contact you. We will find a way to help you and, most importantly, we are not afraid to win!