Photo lineups, corporeal lineups, one-person show-ups and more
I believe most people have heard the phrase “I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.” Normally it’s used in a joking way, but when a crime is committed and there’s uncertainty as to the identification of the perpetrator, it’s serious business and a “lineup” can be conducted to ensure the right person is charged with the crime.
There are four types of lineups.
Generally speaking, a photo lineup consists of six pictures, (a “six pack”), with one picture of the suspect and five others of individuals who bare a resemblance to the suspect.
The witness is then shown the pictures at the same time and asked if the suspect is pictured.
A sequential photo lineup is when the witness is shown the pictures one at a time.
A corporeal (body) lineup is when an in-custody suspect and four or five other individuals who look similar, appear in person, in a line, before the witness, for possible identification of the suspect. The witness is hidden from sight during the viewing and the suspect is represented by an attorney.
A sequential corporeal lineup is when the individuals appear one by one before the witness.
A related identification procedure is a one-person show-up when a suspect is shown to the witness shortly after the crime is committed, usually at or near the crime scene.
With the advent of DNA and other new investigative techniques, occasionally there have been misidentifications of defendants and wrongful convictions.
As a result, 25 states (including Michigan) have implemented lineup best practices through either statute, court action, or voluntary rule adoption by law enforcement. In Michigan, we have rules with the four main protections as follows:
(1) Having the officer conduct the lineup being unaware of the suspect’s identity and not seeing the individuals in the lineup;
(2) Telling the witness that the suspect may or may not be in the lineup;
(3) Having non-suspects match the eyewitness description of the perpetrator;
(4) Receiving a level of confidence score from the witness after an identification is made.
In the end, the goal is to have accurate lineup identifications to the extent humanly possible for the benefit of all concerned.
Not being able to pick a person out of a lineup is perfectly acceptable.