When a witness chooses a suspect from a physical lineup, the person he or she selects may be innocent. Eyewitness misidentification occurs when the wrong person is picked from a lineup and named a suspect, when they did not have anything to do with the crime. According to the Innocence Project, more than 360 people have been released from prison after DNA evidence showed they were actually innocent. More than 71% of these cases involved eyewitness misidentification at the time of trial. Flaws in the identification process can lead to these errors and potentially a wrongful conviction.

The lineup administrator may to blame for some of these errors. The administrator may inadvertently lead the witness with comments or physical cues. Furthermore, it is critical that the administrator informed the witness that the suspect may or may not be present in the lineup. The entire process should be taped so the judge can review it if needed.

The lineup should also be organized in such a way that there is more than one person in the lineup matching the perpetrator’s description. For instance, if the perpetrator was said to have a beard and a tattoo, there should be more than one person in the lineup that has a beard and a tattoo.

Other factors can cause unreliable eyewitness identification, including the following:

  • Lapse in witness memory
  • Distance the witness was standing from the perpetrator during the crime
  • How long it has been since the crime was committed
  • Whether a gun was used during the crime

If the suspect is of a different race than the witness, that can also affect identification accuracy.

This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.