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Lineup and Photo Array Suspect Identification

posted Sep 20, 2012, 2:58 PM by Resty Manapat   [ updated Feb 4, 2014, 10:54 AM ]

Nothing short of a solid, accepted confession can bolster the spirits of investigators and solidify their position in a case quite like witness identification. As far as identifying suspects go, there are a few main ways of doing this, the first being the classic “lineup,” the second being variations of a suspect photo array. Both of these tactics allow for investigators to identify suspects up close to make sure they are suspecting the correct person, however the legalities involved in witness identification can either make or break an entire case.


The famous lineup procedure involves taking a witness’ statement of the suspect’s description and creating a “line” of people with similar descriptions, including a suspect taken into custody by police. What is shown on most police and courtroom drama shows is not the entire issue, however, and much work goes into planning and validating the lineup on both sides. Before conducting a lineup, investigators must gather several non-suspects based on the witness description of height, weight, race, hair color, eye color, and other physical characteristics. The participants must also be of same demeanor, as differences in mood and outward feeling can ruin an otherwise successful procedure (for example, if the suspect is nervous and jittery, the other participants cannot be smiling and relaxed). In some instances, visible tattoos or scars must also be present on all participants.


Even if investigators are confident that the suspect in custody is in fact guilty, they must go to great lengths not to implicate them in front of the identifying witness. The lineup must also be recorded in great detail, to include the place it was conducted, those present, and every words that was said during the process. Legal counsel for the suspect is usually present during the procedure to maintain the best interests for their client. The entire process revolves around producing a clean, unbiased identification of the suspect by the witness, without any help from either side of the legal system. This is often helped by the lineups being performed by an investigator or other staff member who is not connected to the case.


Photo arrays are an alternative to lineups, which are usually only performed in assault, sexual assault, and homicide cases, and do not have to be conducted with an attorney present for the suspect, or even in the presence of police. Usually six photographs are presented to the witness, either in person or via postal mail, and upon identifying the suspect based on photograph only, the correct image is circled, signed, and dated by the witness. This method is not only useful for situations involving uncooperative suspects, but also for crimes that do not warrant funding for an elaborate identification procedure.


Eyewitness identifications must usually be done according to a few basic tenets: the identification should take place while the memory is fresh in the witness’ mind (if not immediately during a “show-up” then as quick as possible); if multiple witness’ are to identify a suspect, they should do it separately to avoid influencing each other’s opinions (sequestering them prior to and after an identification is ideal); the non-suspects must accurately, to a degree, represent the suspect’s description by the witness, to avoid differences that could make the suspect easily stand out on their own.


Suspect identification is by far the most accurate way for a witness to place the suspect as the positive offender, besides an actual video recording of the event that clearly displays the criminal and their actions. Due to much legality involved, the process must be done in a way that does not compromise the case, and therefore regulations and statues have been constructed to avoid tainting of the identification. If identification is proved to be tainted, the suspect is unlikely to be prosecuted.



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