Police Lineup Reform Comes to Chicago

Chicago is embarking on a pilot project to reform police lineups. Lineups will now use double-blind testing--meaning the officer won't know which of the persons in the lineup is the one suspected of committing the crime. The second big change is that lineups will be conducted sequentially--the witness will only view one person or photo at a time.

Both of these measures have been shown to reduce the error rate in eyewitness identifications. If every jurisidiction would adopt these reforms, and require mandatory taping of interrogations, the wrongful conviction rate would tumble.

Police should be encouraged to seek these changes in their departments. If the wrong man is in prison, the guilty one is still out there roaming, ready to strike again.

As a caveat, however, these are not the only changes needed in eyewitness identification. As eyewitness evidence expert and Prof. Gary Wells says,

Regardless of whether one uses a simultaneous or sequential procedure, there are other important problems with lineups that have to be addressed. These other problems include: instructions to eyewitnesses, the selection of lineup fillers, how witness certainty is assessed, how to eliminate inadvertent influences from the lineup administrator, what records must be kept, and so on. Fixation on the sequential procedure is creating a certain degree of myopia with regard to seeing the broad problems with lineups.

For more on this topic, check out the 1999 Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcment. Published by the National Institute of Justice, it outlines basic procedures for police to use to obtain the most reliable and accurate information from eyewitnesses.

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