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Police Lineups in California

In Colman v. Alabama, a witness said, “That man there is the one. He’s the one that shot me.” According to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, “That man there is in trouble. Big trouble. Even if he didn’t fire the shot, he could easily be found guilty at trial because a witness’s positive identification of a suspect at a lineup.”

While police lineups have been valuable tools for detectives in criminal investigations, unfortunately they involve a margin of error. Eyewitness identifications are not 100% foolproof; therefore, a witness’s error has the potential to lead to a wrongful conviction.

In the words of the California Innocence Project, “One of the main causes of wrongful convictions is eyewitness misidentification. Despite a high rate of error (as many as 1 in 4 stranger eyewitness identifications are wrong), eyewitness identifications are considered some of the most powerful evidence against a suspect.” Why the high rate of error? According to the California Innocence Project, it’s because of the following:

  • Witnesses are prone to anxiety or high levels of stress;
  • Since humans cannot record memories like a video recorder, they tend to reconstruct incidents;
  • Witnesses tend to zero in on weapons as opposed to the identities of perpetrators;
  • Police can use suggestive eyewitness procedures that persuade witnesses to identifying a specific suspect; and
  • Cross-racial eyewitness identifications are incredibly suspicious.

“An in-court eyewitness identification of a perpetrator is incredibly powerful to a jury,” says the California Innocence Project. It goes on to say that with the exception of DNA evidence, nothing is more damming for a defendant than a witness telling the jury that the defendant committed a crime. Sometimes, however, a witness is mistaken.

Different Types of Lineups in California

In California, the main types of lineups used by detectives include: 1) live lineups at police stations and jails, 2) recorded lineups (where a live lineup is recorded and later shown to a witness), 3) photographic lineups (where booking and DMV photos are shown to a witness), and 4) voice-only lineups (where the witness listens to suspects’ voices but does not see their faces).

Are you the subject of a criminal investigation in Orange County? If so, contact our office immediately for a free case evaluation.

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