The Solution

Memory is never going to be perfect. That cannot be the goal of eyewitness reforms. But a series of reforms have been proposed regarding how to conduct a lineup that were purported to increase the accuracy of eyewitness evidence. Approximately 30 percent of U.S. jurisdictions already have implemented these reforms. These reforms include the selection of fillers (individuals known to be innocent of the crime in question) that match the perpetrator’s description, the presentation of unbiased instructions to the eyewitness (the perpetrator may or may not be present), and the presentation of lineup members one by one in a sequential lineup. A decision must be made about lineup member 1 (“yes” or “no” is this the perpetrator?) before lineup member 2 is presented, and so on. These reforms can be contrasted with the status quo: the use of fillers that do not match the perpetrator’s description or that match the perpetrator’s physical appearance rather than his description, the use of biased instructions, and simultaneous lineup presentation (all lineup members presented at once for a single decision).

Research by me and my collaborators has raised questions about the effectiveness of the aforementioned reforms. Our research also has established that showups (a one-person identification procedure that is commonly used by the police) result in worse performance than identifications made from lineups.


➦ Identifying the Culprit: Assessing Eyewitness Identification

➦ Troy Davis Execution Fuels Eyewitness ID Debate