How Police Lineups Work

    Law enforcement should take precautions to avoid biased identification in lineups, such as ensuring all participants are clean-shaven. The use of homeless individuals or drug addicts as lineup fillers raises concerns over fairness and reliability.

    enSeptember 04, 2018

    About this Episode

    Police lineups are something most people have never had any firsthand experience with. What you see on TV and in movies isn't so far off though. Learn about how these tropes work for real in today's episode. 

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    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Ridiculous History podcast blends humor and knowledge, unearthing forgotten events and shedding light on lesser-known aspects of our past.
    • Systemic racism and prejudice can infiltrate any aspect of society, even seemingly unrelated events like the Olympics, emphasizing the need to confront and address these issues.
    • Relying solely on eyewitness testimony may result in wrongful convictions, urging the need to explore alternative methods in criminal investigations.
    • Eyewitness testimony is flawed due to our brain's inability to retain detailed memories. This can lead to false accusations and potential injustice in criminal cases.
    • Eyewitness testimony is often faulty, leading to wrongful convictions, and factors such as stress and cross-racial identification further contribute to its unreliability. New, more reliable methods are necessary in determining guilt or innocence.
    • Sequential lineups and double-blind administrators are believed to be the most reliable methods in conducting police lineups to avoid unintentional leading or influencing of witnesses.
    • Conducting lineups in a sequential and double-blind manner, along with informing witnesses of the possibility of the suspect not being present, enhances the accuracy of identification, especially with vulnerable individuals.
    • The debate around the most effective lineup procedure in criminal investigations persists, with concerns about the reliability of a study suggesting double blind sequential lineups produce worse results. Progress in this area is hindered by the ongoing disagreement among officers.
    • Conducting a lineup with only one suspect increases fairness by reducing the chances of random guesses. Collaboration between experts is necessary to improve lineup procedures in real-world settings.
    • Separate lineups for each witness, using strategies like suspect matched or perpetrator description match lineups, and ensuring that the suspect doesn't stand out are crucial for accurate identification.
    • Law enforcement should take precautions to avoid biased identification in lineups, such as ensuring all participants are clean-shaven. The use of homeless individuals or drug addicts as lineup fillers raises concerns over fairness and reliability.
    • Eyewitness testimony is unreliable due to flawed identification processes and can result in wrongful convictions. It should be reevaluated and supplemented with stronger evidence for a more accurate determination of guilt or innocence.
    • Flawed police lineups can lead to wrongful convictions, highlighting the urgency for improvements to prevent innocent individuals from serving prison time for crimes they didn't commit.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    Uncovering the Unusual Side of History

    Ben and Noel have a podcast called Ridiculous History, where they explore bizarre and often overlooked events from human civilization. They aim to find moments, people, places, and things that crack them up and keep the show lighthearted and fun. However, they also touch on some heavier topics, like the imprisonment of women in Kansas labor camps for having STDs in the 1920s. With their unique approach to history, they strive to entertain their listeners while shedding light on lesser-known aspects of our past. So, if you're looking for an entertaining and informative podcast, give Ridiculous History a listen.

    The Dark Side of the Olympics: Racist Ideologies and White Supremacy

    The early days of the Olympics were tainted by racist ideologies and white supremacists who used the platform to promote their twisted beliefs. The 1890s Olympics held in St. Louis, Missouri, were heavily influenced by eugenics ideas and white superiority, with indigenous people being forced to compete in events they were not trained for. This highlights how white supremacists can ruin anything they touch, including an event meant to celebrate athleticism and unity. It serves as a reminder of the importance of acknowledging and confronting systemic racism and prejudice, even in seemingly unrelated areas. The conversation also touches on the hosts' podcast, Ridiculous History, and where to find it on various platforms.

    Flawed eyewitness testimony: A reminder of the limitations of identification in criminal cases.

    Police lineups and eyewitness testimony are imperfect systems for identifying suspects. The conversation highlights a case of wrongful conviction where a man named Jerry Miller spent 24 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Flawed eyewitness testimony played a significant role in his conviction. The conversation emphasizes the need to recognize the limitations of human memory and the fallibility of identification in lineups. It suggests that although efforts can be made to improve the system, it remains imperfect. This case serves as a reminder that relying solely on eyewitness testimony may lead to wrongful convictions and highlights the importance of considering alternative methods or approaches in criminal investigations.

    The Unreliability of Eyewitness Testimony

    Humans are generally unreliable when it comes to eyewitness testimony. Our brains are wired in a way that we don't naturally retain detailed memories of events or people. Instead, we rely on subjective interpretations and reconstructions of what we've seen. Factors like adrenaline, emotional states, and the passage of time further complicate our ability to accurately identify individuals. In the case discussed, even though the person had a clear sighting of the suspects, they were unable to pick them out from a lineup a month later. This highlights the shortcomings of eyewitness testimony and the potential for innocent people to be falsely accused or guilty parties to go free.

    The flaws and unreliability of eyewitness testimony in criminal cases.

    Eyewitness testimony is a flawed and unreliable form of evidence in criminal cases. The current justice system often wrongfully convicts individuals based on eyewitness accounts, leading to innocent people being imprisoned while the real perpetrators go free. The Innocence Project has highlighted the problems with eyewitness testimony by showcasing how DNA exoneration has revealed numerous wrongful convictions, with 75% of the first 183 exonerations in the US being due to faulty eyewitness testimony. Factors such as the dramatic impact on juries and the difficulty of accurately remembering details in high-stress situations further contribute to the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. Additionally, cross-racial identification poses significant challenges, making it even more difficult for witnesses of different ethnicities to accurately identify perpetrators. Therefore, it is crucial to address the flaws in eyewitness testimony and find more reliable methods of determining guilt or innocence in criminal cases.

    Types and Considerations in Police Lineups

    There are different types of police lineups, including live lineups and photo lineups. Live lineups, like the ones shown on TV, involve lining up several individuals for identification, while photo lineups show one photo at a time. Sequential lineups, where individuals are shown or brought out one at a time, are considered to be the better option compared to simultaneous lineups. Another important factor is whether the administrator of the lineup knows who the suspect is or not. It is generally believed that double-blind lineups, where the administrator is unaware, are the most reliable to avoid unintentional leading or influencing of witnesses. Overall, the conversation highlights the different components and considerations involved in conducting a police lineup.

    Improving Identification Accuracy through Sequential and Double-Blind Lineups

    Conducting lineups in a sequential and double-blind manner can significantly decrease the likelihood of mistaken identity or failed identification. By presenting one suspect at a time in a photo lineup or bringing out one live suspect at a time, administered by someone who is unaware of the suspect's identity, the chances of a witness making an accurate identification are improved. Additionally, it is beneficial to inform the witness that the suspect may or may not be present in the lineup, as this reduces the pressure to pick someone and encourages a more objective evaluation. This approach is particularly important when dealing with young children and elderly individuals, as they may be more vulnerable to making mistakes when the actual offender is not present. Overall, following these practices can help ensure a more reliable identification process.

    Controversy and Uncertainty in Lineup Procedures

    There is controversy and uncertainty surrounding the most effective lineup procedure in criminal investigations. While a study in Illinois suggested that a double blind sequential lineup produces worse results compared to a non-double blind simultaneous lineup, there are concerns about the methodology used in that study. Some argue that the research was flawed and may not be reliable. Both methods have their advantages and drawbacks, such as relative judgment in simultaneous lineups and absolute judgment in sequential lineups. Additionally, the use of a blind administrator in sequential lineups can create logistical challenges for law enforcement agencies. As a result, there is still debate among officers about the best approach to lineup procedures, which may hinder progress in this area of criminal investigation.

    Importance of Single Suspect Lineups for Fairness

    When conducting a lineup, it is important to have only one suspect in the lineup to ensure fairness. If there are multiple suspects in a lineup, it increases the chances of someone guessing randomly, making it less fair for the suspects. By having one suspect in a lineup of five people, the chance of that person being chosen by random chance is one in five. However, if there are two suspects in a five-person lineup, their chances increase to two out of five. Implementing this standard in the field can be challenging, as there seems to be a disconnect between lab studies and real-world practices. It is crucial for experts to communicate and collaborate to improve lineup procedures.

    The complexity of conducting lineups and the importance of accuracy in selecting suitable individuals.

    Conducting a lineup can be a complex process that requires careful consideration. Police precincts often face challenges in finding suitable individuals for lineups, especially when multiple witnesses provide varying descriptions of the perpetrator. It is important to create separate lineups for each witness to increase accuracy. Different strategies can be used, such as a suspect matched lineup where all individuals in the lineup resemble the suspect, or a perpetrator description match lineup where the lineup is based on the eyewitness accounts. Ensuring that the suspect does not stand out is crucial, as it may lead to misidentification. Techniques like dressing individuals in similar attire are employed to make everyone in the lineup resemble the described perpetrator. However, it is worth noting that some portrayals of lineups in movies, where all suspects are present and obviously differ from each other, do not accurately reflect real-life procedures.

    Flaws in Law Enforcement Lineup Procedures and the Role of Facial Hair

    Lineup procedures used by law enforcement can be flawed and potentially lead to inaccurate identifications. One aspect that caught their attention was the importance of whether or not a suspect is clean-shaven. If a witness does not mention the suspect's facial hair, it should not be assumed that the suspect had a beard. This conversation highlights the need for all lineup participants to be clean-shaven to avoid biased identification. Additionally, the conversation mentions a casting agent named Robert Weston who assists in creating lineups. It is revealed that he only receives $10 per lineup and sometimes uses homeless individuals or drug addicts as fillers. This raises concerns about the reliability and fairness of the lineup process.

    The Flaws of Eyewitness Testimony

    Eyewitness testimony is inherently flawed and unreliable as evidence in court. The conversation highlights the various flaws and issues with identification processes like lineups, investigatory lineups, and show-ups. These identification methods can lead to mistaken identifications and false memories due to factors such as limited time, suggestive cues, and the influence of police custody. Such misidentifications can greatly impact court cases and often result in wrongful convictions. The conversation suggests that the weight given to eyewitness testimony in court should be reevaluated and reduced, as it is not a reliable indicator of guilt or innocence. Relying solely on eyewitness testimony is insufficient, and stronger evidence should be gathered to build a more solid case.

    The consequences of flawed police lineups and the need for improvement

    Police lineups, although flawed, can have serious consequences on the lives of individuals. While they may have some veracity and a 75% success rate, the fact that they can be wrong 25% of the time is a significant issue. People's lives are at stake, and being misidentified and serving decades in prison for a crime they didn't commit is a horrifying thought. The conversation highlights the need for improvements in the process of police lineups to prevent wrongful convictions. Additionally, the podcast hosts receive an email from a listener whose baby boy is soothed by their voices, showcasing the impact and connection they have with their audience.

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