When a crime is being committed the victim and witnesses are usually grappling with range of emotions. Often, the victim and witnesses aren’t able to get a clear view of the criminal’s face. The person who committed the crime may have his face covered or is standing in a manner that offers only a partial view to a witness. For years there have been complaints filed against police departments across the country claiming that police officers manipulated or influenced witnesses during lineups. Since being charged with a crime is such a serious matter it is extremely important that the integrity of police lineups is maintained.
When police arrest a suspect they are invested in finding the person accused of committing the crime. They want the case prosecuted and resolved. They also want to arrest and prosecute the suspected criminal to prevent him from committing another crime. A police officer’s eagerness to solve a case can cause him to influence a witness during a police lineup. If a witness or the victim can’t accurately identify the suspected criminal, it could lead to the charges getting dropped or it could significantly weaken the prosecutor’s case in favor of the defense lawyer.
If a witness identifies the wrong person in a police lineup the police officer may advise the witness to take more time in choosing one of the suspects. An officer may say something to the witness that makes a particular suspect stand out. Sometimes the police officer’s comments and gestures are not even intentional. The police officer may not be aware of the subtle cues he is giving off while in the room with the witness.
People are wrongfully arrested and convicted for committing crimes every day. More than 70% of wrongful convictions can be traced to witnesses choosing the wrong person in a lineup.
When a police officer subconsciously gives off physical or verbal cues to a witness it is known as the observer expectancy effect. When a researcher is conducting an experiment his bias can make him subconsciously influence the participants in the experiment. Many of us have biases they affect our decisions but efforts should be made to prevent those biases from influencing others when it involves serious issues such prosecuting a criminal case against an individual.
Some precincts have adopted new procedures in order to prevent witnesses from being influenced by police officers. States such as Virginia, Connecticut, and New Jersey recommend that police officers who can identify the suspect no longer be allowed to conduct lineups. “Police precincts in Los Angeles, California have refused to implement uniform guidelines for lineups even though there have been many complaints about their procedures and police officer misconduct”.
Los Angeles police officer misconduct during a photo lineup was glaringly apparent in The People of the State of California vs. Marlon Morales case. During a recorded interview the female witness was advised to choose a photo of the man who allegedly committed a murder. The female witness admitted that she did not get a clear view of the person who committed the crime. After the female witness chose one photo the detectives steered her towards a photo of another suspect, Marlon Morales. The police officers repeatedly kept referring to Morales’s photo until the female witness finally chose Morales as the person she saw commit the crime. The prosecutor proceeded to press murder charges against Morales but he was acquitted.
The process of lineups is inherently flawed. It is often difficult for a witness to choose the person who committed the crime while looking at other people who have similar features and characteristics.
Research is still being performed to determine if lineups conducted by officers investigating the case or lineups conducted by officers not involved in the case would lead to more accurate identifications. But one thing is for certain, if the officers who are able to identify the suspect do not participate in the lineup it will reduce the chances of the witness being influenced.
If you are facing criminal charges you should speak with a criminal defense attorney. Schedule a free initial consultation so that your case can be evaluated. Get the legal assistance you need so that you can effectively fight the criminal charges.
Disclaimer: The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem. Corporate offices for Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are located at 269 W. Jefferson St.; Syracuse, New York 13202; Telephone No.: (315) 473-0899. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Attorney Advertising.