Criminal Justice

Study Backs Sequential Police Lineups, Performed by Those Who Aren’t Aware of Suspect

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A new study of police lineups released today lends support to one-at-a-time sequential lineups performed by administrators who don’t know the identity of the suspect.

The study (PDF) found that such lineups result in fewer misidentifications than simultaneous lineups, the New York Times reports. Researchers used mostly cases from Austin, Texas, and showed lineup photos to witnesses on a laptop computer. In sequential lineups, witnesses picked photos of people who weren’t suspects in 12 percent of the cases. In simultaneous lineups, nonsuspects were chosen in 18 percent of the cases.

The problem with simultaneous lineups, the theory goes, is that witnesses compare the photos and choose the person who most looks like the suspect. The idea behind sequential lineups is to allow witnesses to compare each person to their memory of the perpetrator.

Iowa State psychology professor Gary Wells is lead author of the new report. “Sequential presentation is not a silver bullet for the mistaken identification problem, but can lead to fewer innocent suspects being misidentified when the lineups are conducted double-blind,” meaning the administrator doesn’t know the suspect, he said in a statement issued to the Times.

The new report counters a 2006 study that found fewer selections overall in sequential lineups, the story says. In the new study, sequential lineups resulted in the same percentage of suspect IDs when witnesses were allowed to see the photos a second time if they requested it.

A press release has more information.

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