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Just how reliable are police line-ups?

One of the types of ways that police in New Mexico, and around the country, use to help witnesses identify suspects is the police line-up. It is a classic: A variety of somewhat similar-looking suspects are brought into a location, and the witness to a crime is then asked to identify the person responsible. Line-ups have been used for decades.

That being said, there are real challenges with these line-ups: They have serious reliability issues. They are still widely used across the nation, including in New Mexico, despite recent efforts to reform the process.

What is the challenge with police line-ups?

The issues are simple: They don’t always work. From a criminal defense perspective, there are many problems with line-ups. These include:

  • Police officers will sometimes, unintentionally, give clues about the “correct” suspect.
  • Human memory is inherently faulty, particularly when a crime is occurring. This problem is compounded in instances of heightened adrenaline or when the attacker is of a different race than the witness.
  • Positive identification may also bias the police, leading them to try and prove the accused individual guilty, rather than find the guilty party.

What does this mean for accused people?

If you have been accused of a crime – and “identified” by a witness via a police line-up – you should not view that as the end of your case. Indeed, many cases have been thrown out due to high-quality legal work, and a good attorney who has experience in this field and has done their homework should be able to help an accused individual identify a legal strategy that will help exonerate them.

Indeed, if you have been accused of a crime, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. This becomes even more important if you have been identified in a police line-up.