Four Rules for Line-Ups May Greatly Reduce Mis-Identifications
Gary Wells is professor of psychology at Iowa State University. He is at the forefront of experts who say the legal system itself is partly to blame for eyewitness errors because it is using risky, frequently biased methods to secure eyewitness identification.
The experimental evidence, published in a variety of peer-reviewed scientific journals, shows the risk of eyewitnesses making false identifications is influenced by methods used in constructing and conducting lineups and photospreads. The empirical evidence, and the social and cognitive processes governing these effects indicate that the legal system could impose four simple rules that would greatly reduce the justice system's role in contributing to false identifications:
- Eyewitnesses should be informed that the culprit might not be in the lineup.
- The suspect should not stand out as a distinctive member of the lineup.
- Lineups should be administered by someone who does not know which person is the suspect.
- Witnesses should be asked how certain they are of their choice prior to allowing other information to contaminate their judgment.
[For a detailed discussion of the scientific evidence on these points, see Wells, G. L. & Seelau, E. P. (1995). "Eyewitness Identification: Psychological research and legal policy on lineups." Psychology, Public Policy, and Law , Volume 1, pages 765-791.]