Eyewitness Identification Issues in Criminal Cases

Police often show pictures of suspects to victims in a variety of cases. These are known as out of court identifications. One of the methods they employ are photo lineups to identify criminal suspects, which often times results in an arrest. One of the major, fundamental problems with law enforcement conducting these photo line ups is the danger that may be dangerously subjective. What I mean is that before the police officer or sheriff approaches the victim, they know who they want the victim to choose. Now, I’m not saying that they tell the victim who to choose. But common sense will tell any reasonable person that if a victim is unsure between two of the photos in the lineup, that there is going to be some continued interaction between the officer and the victim. I have even seen in police reports where, after the victim guesses the identity of the suspect, the cop will affirm their decision by telling them that the person they chose has a long criminal history of doing the same thing to other people! Now, if that victim testifies at trial, they are going to point to the defendant in court with little reservation in their identification. That’s not fair and dangerous in that there is a substantial likelihood of misidentification. What that may lead to is a wrongful conviction. And there is no greater danger to our shared notions of freedom and justice than to wrongfully convict a person because of police misconduct. If your case involves a photo lineup, talk to a lawyer about any potential motions to suppress. This is a very important area of law with constantly evolving case law and police procedures. Furthermore, if you go to trial in a case that involves eyewitness identification, look into a motion for a special jury instruction on eyewitness identification.


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