Witness – Our Faith in Line-Ups

Witness – Our Faith in Line-Ups

On TV crime shows, a line-up is viewed as something to aspire to in an investigation. But when under study, and in real life cases of false imprisonment, line-up accuracy is being questioned.

Witnesses have varying ability to remember faces and body types. they have biases and are best at same-race IDs. Not because they’re racist (though they could be…) but maybe because that is who they are most exposed to? Familiar is easiest.

Witnesses are under pressures of stress and the police/crown’s need to solve a case. And if the officer pushes the ID with pointed questions, it can taint the witness’s actual memory to the point where the ID isn’t even usable as evidence.

At this time, this means that any witness ID is questionable at best and needs other evidence to support it.

Yet courts around the world still use it. It makes you wonder what need it’s fulfilling for them? Part of that may be that the juries have faith in this type of evidence.

…… resources

Live lineups typically use five or six people (a suspect plus four or five fillers) and
photo lineups six or more photographs.
two common types of lineups: simultaneous and sequential.

  • In a simultaneous lineup (used most often in police departments around the country),[5] the eyewitness views all the people or photos at the same time.
  • In a sequential lineup, people or photographs are presented to the witness one at a time.
  • In a “double-blind” lineup, however, neither the administrator nor the witness knows the identity of the suspect, and so the administrator cannot influence the witness in any way.

Additional variables:
Prelineup instructions given to the witness

  • The physical characteristics of fillers.
  • Similarities or differences between witness and suspect age, race, or ethnicity.
    Incident characteristics, such as the use of force or weapons.


If anything, the data converge on the conclusion that witnesses are less likely to identify any of the lineup members if they are observed in person than if they are viewed with videos or photos.
With video and photo lineups, lineup administrators have greater control over the behaviors of suspects and fillers.


Memory retrieval can occur in several different ways, and there are many things that can affect it, such as how long it has been since the last time you retrieved the memory, what other information you have learned in the meantime, and many other variables.
Interference occurs in memory when there is an interaction between the new material being learned and previously learned material.


Memory doesn’t record our experiences like a video camera. It creates stories based on those experiences. The stories are sometimes uncannily accurate, sometimes completely fictional, and often a mixture of the two; and they can change to suit the situation. Eyewitness testimony is a potent form of evidence for convicting the accused, but it is subject to unconscious memory distortions and biases even among the most confident of witnesses. So memory can be remarkably accurate or remarkably inaccurate. Without objective evidence, the two are indistinguishable.


there is a substantial body of research demonstrating that eyewitnesses can make serious, but often understandable and even predictable, errors
Some factors have been shown to make eyewitness identification errors particularly likely. These include:

  • poor vision or viewing conditions during the crime,
  • particularly stressful witnessing experiences,
  • too little time to view the perpetrator or perpetrators,
  • too much delay between witnessing and identifying,
  • and being asked to identify a perpetrator from a race other than one’s own
    eyewitness testimony is very powerful and convincing to jurors, even though it is not particularly reliable. Identification errors occur, and these errors can lead to people being falsely accused and even convicted. Likewise, eyewitness memory can be corrupted by leading questions, misinterpretations of events, conversations with co-witnesses, and their own expectations for what should have happened. People can even come to remember whole events that never occurred.

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