If you have never participated in an eyewitness lineup, count your blessings. An eyewitness lineup is a nerve-wracking event for everyone involved, and the eyewitness invariably feels a certain level of obligation to pinpoint the right suspect, thereby facilitating a conviction.
Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions concerning eyewitness lineups.
Police Lineup Q: Who is involved in a lineup?
The suspect and four or five decoys are the ones who actually participate in the lineup. The decoys can be law enforcement officers, desk clerks, or anyone else who happens to be handy. On the “other side of the glass” are the victim or eyewitness, one or two police officers, the prosecutor and the defense attorney.
Police Lineup Q: What if a suspect doesn’t want to participate?
If the suspect has been arrested, the police can compel him or her to participate in the lineup. It is not considered a violation of the Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination because the suspect isn’t required to give testimony. Suspects, however, who have not been arrested do not have to participate in a lineup, though it certainly looks better if they cooperate.
Police Lineup Q: Can the victim of a crime demand a lineup?
In some states, the victims of violent or heinous crimes do have the right to request a lineup, though if no suspect has been found in the case, there is no lineup to be had. Since victims are the most common eyewitnesses in a lineup, their rights are important to the prosecution.
Police Lineup Q: Should eyewitnesses have any reason to fear a lineup?
In most cases, no. Lineups take place on two sides of one-way mirrors, which means that the eyewitness can see the lineup, but the members of the lineup can’t see the witness. Further, the members of the lineup are not allowed to speak, and if a suspect yells out something like, “You’d better tell them I’m innocent!”, he or she can be charged with intimidation of a witness.
Police Lineup Q: Will a suspect have to wear or say anything special during the lineup?
Possibly, if the case calls for it. For example, if Julie was the victim of an assault, and she knows that her attacker was wearing a blue baseball cap, then all of the members of the lineup may be required to wear a blue baseball cap. Similarly, if Julie heard her attacker say, “Shut up and be still,” then the members of the lineup may be required to say that phrase in turn. However, the suspect will not have to wear or say anything that the other members of the lineup don’t.
Police Lineup Q: Can the police or prosecutor talk to the eyewitness during the lineup?
Yes, but what they can say is limited. For example, if the suspect is Number Four in the lineup, a police officer cannot say, “Do you see anything familiar about Number Four?”
Police Lineup Q: Are there any other restrictions for lineups?
a. If there are multiple eyewitnesses, they cannot speak to each other until after they have all completed their obligations in the lineup.
b. The suspect cannot be bound in any way during the lineup, such as in handcuffs.
c. The eyewitness(es) cannot see the suspect in the police precinct before the lineup takes place.
d. Each of the members of the lineup must share physical characteristics, such as blue eyes, blond hair, specific height or body type.