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Preventing unconscious bias in police lineups

On Behalf of | Feb 27, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Many Florida residents have seen films or television shows that include scenes where police officers ask an eyewitness to pick a suspect out of a lineup. While this does happen in real life, it is rare. In most law enforcement investigations, eyewitnesses are shown an array of photos instead of a group of people. Police officers refer to these photo arrays as “six-packs.” While six-packs are considered more reliable than the lineups movie and TV viewers are familiar with because they put less pressure on witnesses, they are far from perfect.

Unconscious bias

Eyewitnesses feel involved in an investigation, and they usually want to do everything they can to solve the crime and close the case. This sometimes leads to unconscious bias. When witnesses are shown a photo array, the police officer involved will usually look at the suspect’s image even if they do not intend to. Witnesses usually notice this, and it may lead them to make a positive identification even if they are not completely sure that the person in the photo is the individual they saw commit a crime or flee a crime scene. This is why criminal defense attorneys are so thorough when they cross-examine eyewitnesses.

Sequential lineups

Most photo arrays in the United States are simultaneous, which means the suspect is shown all of the photos at the same time. In most other countries, witnesses are shown photos one at a time, and they are usually shown more than six. This is called the sequential method, and it is considered far more reliable by experts. False identifications can also be reduced by having photo lineups conducted by police officers who do not know who the suspect is.

Arresting the right person

The goal of a police investigation is to arrest the person who actually committed the crime. Photo lineups can help police officers to solve cases, but they should be conducted in a way that minimizes bias. Justice would be better served if law enforcement in the United States abandoned six-packs and adopted the sequential method used in most other countries.