Selective memory: Why eyewitness lineups are not always accurate

On Behalf of | Nov 20, 2019 | Criminal Defense |

The United States judicial system is designed to prosecute criminals, protect victims and uphold the law. Eyewitness identification and testimonies are often used in criminal cases as a way to place the suspect at the crime scene. Unfortunately, eyewitness identification procedures have flaws, which may result in the conviction of an innocent person.

There are several areas of the eyewitness lineup procedure where mistakes can occur. Errors in the process, however, can change an innocent persons’ life. One area of concern involves the person conducting the lineup. The lineup administrator may inadvertently say something or use physical cues to prompt the witness to choose a certain person from the lineup. This may be avoided by ensuring the lineup administrator does not know anything about the case. Furthermore, administrators should follow a script regarding what they are going to say. This includes letting the witness know that the suspect may or may not be present in the lineup.

Lineup organization is another issue that can lead to wrongful convictions. The lineup should contain more than one person who matches the identity of the perpetrator. For example, if the perpetrator had a mustache and dark hair, there should be more than one person in the lineup with a mustache and dark hair.

Eyewitness memory can also lead to lineup errors. Certain factors can affect an eyewitness’s memory, including the following:

  • Whether the perpetrator used a weapon
  • If the perpetrator’s race matches that of the witness
  • The distance the witness was standing from the point of the crime
  • The amount of light present and other environmental factors present at the scene
  • The amount of time that has elapsed from when the crime occurred until the witness is asked to choose a suspect from the lineup.

It is important to take all things into consideration before allowing an eyewitness to take the stand.