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Police lineups can lead to wrongful convictions

Facing charges for a violent crime means your future is at risk. The penalties for violent crimes can include years or even decades behind bars, not to mention a criminal record that will likely impede you from pursuing most career paths.

Police investigations into violent crimes such as assault, murder and rape often include interviews with people who claim to have witnessed the crime or to have seen someone suspicious at the time the incident occurred. Such interviews may culminate with a police lineup, and here is where your rights may suffer the most harm.

Flaws in police lineups

Police lineups, whether in person or using photographs, are notoriously unreliable for the following reasons:

  • Investigators often use lineups to obtain probable cause for the arrest of a suspect rather than to get to the truth.
  • Events or images long after an alleged crime occurs can easily influence the memories of eyewitnesses.
  • Eyewitnesses are less likely to correctly identify someone who is not of their own race.
  • Police unconsciously or intentionally influence the choices of eyewitnesses through their words and body language.
  • Witnesses may make a choice because police imply that the suspect is definitely among those in line.
  • Police may choose random fillers who do not resemble the description of an eyewitness, leaving the witness to choose the person who most closely resembles the description.

If a witness picks you out of a lineup, it may be because no one else in the lineup matched your description. It could also be that officers dissuaded the witness from making a different choice, such as by saying, "Take your time," if the witness was about to choose someone other than you.

New procedures

Some states are adopting new standards for police lineups. For example, the changes no longer allow the officers involved in the case in the room with the witness, and the officers who conduct the lineup are not aware which person in the line is the suspect. In this way, no gestures or comments can influence a witness' decision. Not every police station in the country has embraced these new procedures, and it is possible the Georgia station where you are booked does not have this protocol in place.

More than 70 percent of reversed wrongful convictions were the result of the incorrect identification of a witness. When police are more concerned about making an arrest than finding the truth, you have a right to be concerned. Seeking the representation of a skilled criminal defense attorney can help ensure the protection of your rights.

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Atlanta, GA 30305

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