Lineups and Eyewitness Identification – Michigan Criminal Trial Attorneys

Eyewitness identification is some of the most inaccurate and unreliable evidence obtained by police. Witnesses are often viewing a crime in a state of shock or in an emotionally charged environment. Yet, the potential impact of an eyewitness identification of a defendant in front of a jury can be devastating.

Most Criminal Cases Never Require A Line Up

Not every criminal case involves a serious dispute as to the identity of the accused. For example, the vast majority of people accused of a sexual assault are accused by people who know them. In these cases, there may be a false accusation, but there probably will not be a lineup or a need to have the complaining witness identify the accused.

In the cases where lineups are used, there are many ways in which police misconduct or mistakes can affect the outcome of the case. If you are facing a case in which identification is an issue, your attorney should carefully consider how to handle this situation. Kronzek and Cronkright attorneys have seen many cases in which poor police procedures have impacted the outcome of witness identification.

Eyewitness identification can be a critical part of conducting a police investigation. A lineup generally occurs with a suspect taken into custody. In an ideal situation, a police officer that does not know the identity of the suspect places the individual in a line with at least five other people known as fillers. The fillers need to be of a similar physical description so that the suspect does not stand out.

In the instances where the officer knows the identity of the suspect, he or she must be careful not to inadvertently indicate this to the eyewitness through verbal and nonverbal cues. The history of false convictions following a lineup in this country is atrocious. DNA evidence has led to the reversal of many convictions that were based on incorrect eyewitness identification. Many innocent people have ended up in jail or prison based upon a mistake made during a lineup.

There are different types of lineups. A simultaneous lineup is where all the individuals stand together at once and the eyewitness is asked if a suspect is recognized. With a sequential lineup, people are looked at one at a time and decisions are made on that basis. Some research shows that the one-on-one inspection of suspects is more likely to produce correct results while reducing or avoiding bias from police in the process. Many jurisdictions in Michigan are using photographic lineups. This process is where the police select a group of photographs to show the witness instead of actually gathering up similar looking people. With a photo lineup, the defense attorney should be consulted before the lineup and should be present when the witness reviews the photographs.

Individuals have a Sixth Amendment right to counsel at or after the beginning of criminal proceedings, including formal charges, arraignment, preliminary hearing, etc. (Moore v. Illinois, 434 U.S. 220 (1977)). In cases where a lineup occurs and the right to counsel is denied in an improper way, all testimony relating to the identification is inadmissible in court. In addition, later in-court identification will also be inadmissible unless the prosecution can show by clear and convincing evidence that the observations of the suspect were derived from other than the lineup. (United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218 (1967)).

Sometimes, a lineup is merely a sham that masks a prior identification that was totally controlled by the police without any defense attorney participation. It is a common police procedure to transport a witness to the location where a suspect is located and then ask the witness if the suspect is the person that the witness saw commit a crime. This type of identification tactic is highly suggestive and likely to result in an identification of the suspect, whether accurate or not. If this is done prior to a lineup or in-court identification, the later procedure can be tainted but leave the impression of being a legitimate lineup. An in-court identification done in front of a jury can have a powerful impact. Therefore, an attorney should always make an effort to discover the details of the prior identification.

The skilled trial lawyers at Kronzek and Cronkright, PLLC are highly experienced at navigating clients through every aspect of a criminal investigation.

Email or call us at 866-7-NoJail to discuss your individual bond situation.

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