Darien police use different lineup method for eyewitness identification
In an effort to reduce the number of mistaken identifications from eyewitnesses during a police lineup, a Connecticut legislative task force making recommendations for how lineups are conducted.
The Darien Police Department went from conducting a simultaneous lineup to a sequential lineup a couple of years ago after learning about the inherent flaws in simultaneous lineup identifications.
When conducting a simultaneous lineup, an eyewitness received eight photos of similar-looking individuals at one time and was asked if he could identify any as a suspect.
However, Darien Police Chief Duane Lovello said there were certain risks when relying on eyewitness identification in such a situation.
"There were studies conducted that found when doing the simultaneous lineup, it may be unnecessarily subjective. After awhile people begin making subjective judgements," he said.
As a result of those studies, Lovello said the department implemented the sequential lineup which involves giving an eyewitness photos of people one at a time and without any knowledge of whether the suspect is included in the lineup.
"One of the changes that will be going into effect Jan. 1 is the use of a double-blind lineup," Lovello said. "With the double-blind, the eyewitness doesn't know where the person will appear in the lineup and they don't know who the suspect is versus either knowing where a person would appear in the lineup or the suspect. That is what happens with what is called a blind lineup."
As a member of the task force charged with making recommendations or even mandating changes to how lineups are conducted, Lovello said there are few departments that use the sequential lineup.
"New Jersey mandates that departments use the sequential lineup and Massachusetts is beginning to make the change even though it isn't mandated," he said. "I think the police have an obligation to protect the people but also to protect innocent people from being charged with crimes they didn't commit."
Since making the change, Lovello said he hasn't seen any significant changes in the number of positive identifications.
"Darien is not a crime-ridden town, so we only do about a dozen lineups a year," he said. "One of the biggest benefits is the decrease in the number of mistaken identifications. You might get a few less positive identifications but that's OK."
Even though the department may see fewer positive identifications, Lovello said it's a fair trade because departments are reluctant to bring a case to a prosecutor based solely on an eyewitness identification.
"Most of the time you try to bring cases with an eyewitness identification and evidence to corroborate the identification," Lovello said.
One of the issues with using an eyewitness identification, especially with the simultaneous lineup, is the fact that people will begin making relative judgements based on how closely a person resembles the suspect," Lovello said.
"We tell people as part of the instructions for the lineup is that the suspect may or may not be included in the lineup," he said.
In a study published by the American Judicature Society, "A Test of the Simultaneous vs. Sequential Lineup Methods," researchers examined the reasons why the sequential lineup may be a fairer and more accurate method for identifying suspects versus the simultaneous lineup.
"The sequential lineup was first tested in lab studies in 1985 and was predicted to be superior to the simultaneous method based on an emerging theory that eyewitnesses have a tendency to use relative judgments in making eyewitness identification decisions," the study states. "A relative judgment is one in which witnesses compare lineup members to one another and try to decide which one looks most like their memory of the perpetrator. Witnesses then have a propensity to select that person. The problem with relative judgment, according to the theory, is that someone will always look more like the perpetrator than the other members of the lineup, even when the lineup does not contain the perpetrator. A reliable effect, called the removal-without-replacement effect, was demonstrated in lab experiments in 1993 and has served as one of the core findings illustrating the relative-judgment process. The effect simply shows that if the actual perpetrator is removed from a lineup and replaced with no one, a large share of eyewitnesses who would have picked the perpetrator tend to shift to another lineup member and identify that person rather than make no identification (even though they are clearly warned that the actual perpetrator might not be in the lineup)."
However, the study did note one of the issues with testing the reliability of sequential versus simultaneous is the fact that the "suspect" is always known in the lab cases but not always in actual cases.
New Canaan Police Chief Edward Nadriczny said his department uses a photo array when conducting lineups. The photo array is composed of eight photos with similar looking individuals. The suspect is included in the photos but the victim who is looking at the lineup doesn't know that, Nadriczny said.
"The officers are instructed that they can't be suggestive in any way. Either the victim will make an identification or they won't," he said.
With the proposed legislation requiring police departments to shift to a double-blind sequential lineup, Nadriczny said he has some concerns about the impact of the changes.
"There have been legitimate questions about the reliability of the lineup but what happens if you have a situation where everyone in the department is involved in the crime and they all know who the suspect is based on the description?" Nadriczny asked. "We'll have to wait and see how things develop."
The double-blind sequential lineup would require an officer who does not know the suspect and the victim is who is trying to make an identification would not know who or where the suspect will appear in the lineup.
However, for a town like New Canaan where there are fewer serious crimes, lineups are a fairly rare occurrence.
"We don't do many lineups. If we do 10 or 12 a year that's a lot," he said.
Regardless of the changes made to how the police conduct lineups, Nadriczny said he expects to see new policies change and evolve as more information is made available.