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Do lineups actually work in Florida?

On Behalf of | Feb 23, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Lineups have proven to be a superior means of identifying suspects compared to show-ups, also called the field identification procedure. However, it’s a practice still rife with biases that can potentially cause adverse effects on the Florida cases they’re used in.

Investigators accidentally revealing their own biases

In a lineup, the suspect is presented to the witness mixed in with several unrelated individuals who look similar. These are commonly referred to as foils. Instead of looking at a literal line of people, as is often seen in pop culture, most lineups are conducted using photographs.

The effectiveness and accuracy of lineups depend heavily on the way that they’re administered. There are countless errors along every step of the way that might compromise criminal defense.

It’s easy for humans to pick up on subtle facial cues. When investigators are aware of the suspect’s true identity, as is often the case, witnesses might pick up on them singling out that individual. They may then decide based on those cues rather than their own recollections of the incident. So if the investigators aren’t out of the witnesses’ line of vision, their biases may compromise the results.

Simultaneous versus sequential lineups

There’s disagreement over how best to administer a lineup. Sequential and simultaneous are the two schools of thought. With sequential lineups, witnesses are shown the individuals one at a time.

Simultaneous lineups are usually what people think of. It’s the traditional method where the individuals are shown all at once, side-by-side. With this approach, there’s a slight increase in the chances of the innocent being impugned, but it also increases the likelihood that the guilty person will be correctly identified.

Sometimes, lineups are conducted without any suspect included. There are supposed to happen as a measure to counter potential false positives. But in the demanding work of criminal justice, it’s a standard that often gets pushed to the side.

The way lineups are constructed bears heavily on the reliability of the outcome. For instance, everyone in the lineup should be the same race. It’s important to use individuals who are similar in appearance, and law enforcement needs to be mindful of how they’re dressed and photographed. If there’s anything to single out the suspect, it may lead to biased results.