Early last month we blogged about pending legislation regarding the photo lineup procedures practiced by law enforcement departments across the state. That legislation passed and now Texas police departments have to revamp the way they’ve done lineups for years, all in an effort to reduce the number of innocent people being identified by witnesses.
Dallas changed their procedures two years ago, though they were the only major department in the state to do so. The change was met with some resistance from officers who believed the old way of doing things was just fine. However, the department adjusted and officials there believe they are the better for it.
For the past several decades, police would bring a witness in and show them a group of photos. They would ask the witness to identify the person of interest, if that person could be found in the group of photos. The main problem with this method, it seems, is that the witnesses would compare the photos to one another, often choosing the one that most resembled the suspect rather than the one that was the suspect.
Now, under the new law and according to what Dallas has been doing for the past few years, photos are shown one at a time in a consecutive manner. This, experts say, allows the witness to compare photos to the memory of the suspect, rather than to the other photos.
A lot happens when a witness is tasked with identifying a suspect from a photo lineup. As this article from NPR details, both spoken and unspoken communications between the officer and the witness can influence greatly the outcome of the meeting. Any doubt or questioning sound in the voice of an officer can cause the witness to second guess their gut feeling and what their memory is telling them about the suspect, rendering the lineup and potential identification undependable.
Even telling the witness that “the suspect you are looking for may not be present in the photos” can help reduce the likelihood that the witness will choose an innocent person. They don’t feel like they “have” to find someone when this disclaimer is included.
According to NPR, about 25% of departments across the nation have changed their lineup procedures to reflect these better practices. But like any major changes to police procedure, things like this take time. Only nine years ago, nearly every department was doing the lineups the “old fashioned” way, with little thought to how the officers’ actions might influence the witness’ id.
Even with these changes, mistakes are made. When it comes to DNA exonerations, false witness identification played a role in the majority of cases. And these are only the cases that we know about. Innocent people are accused of crimes and in some instances even convicted of crimes.
If you are charged with a criminal offense that you did not commit you need an experienced advocate on your side. Even if you admit your role in a criminal offense but feel like the police are taking the charges too far, we may be able to help. Contact our attorneys today for a free consultation on a criminal charge in Texas.