While eyewitness evidence can often be a crucial element in a criminal trial, it also has proven to be unreliable in many cases, with DNA evidence leading to some convictions being overturned. Efforts to make eyewitness identification, including police lineups, more reliable are ongoing. In Georgia, people who are in a lineup with others who have facially dissimilar features might be more likely to be correctly identified.
Composition of police line-ups
One area of contention is how to best choose the “fillers”, or people who are known to be innocent, for the lineup. There are basically two approaches. One is to include people who match the description but who also have facial features that are similar to that of the suspect. The other is to include people who match the description but who have facial features that are dissimilar. While the latter might seem to make identification easier, there is a concern that it could lead to an innocent suspect being wrongly identified. This can lead to problems for a criminal defense strategy, as it may be difficult to convince a jury that this misidentification has occurred.
Study finds optimal approach
A study published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the optimal approach uses faces that have similar descriptions but dissimilar features. In this situation, participants were more likely to be able to choose the correct face in a lineup after witnessing a video of a mock crime. In addition, this approach did not increase the likelihood of misidentifying an innocent suspect.
Additional research can continue to help improve the accuracy of eyewitness identifications as well as the accuracy of other types of evidence. Understanding the limits of what this evidence proves can help the defense contextualize and potentially cast doubt on it during a trial.