Did you ever play the game where you and your friends try to figure out which celebrity each of you looks like? You might also have seen people on the street who looked like ringers for famous faces. But how often did you worry that you looked like a copy of a serious criminal?
By now, we’ve all heard stories about people who were arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. And we’ve also heard stories about people who were wrongfully locked away before some new evidence led to their release. This is because the police and courts still rely on some notoriously flawed evidence—eyewitness testimony—and the methods the police use to have witnesses identify suspects can also be flawed.
How the police ask witnesses to identify suspects
It’s terrifying to think that you could be locked away for years because you were mistaken for a killer or rapist. You might hope that the police and their witnesses would take every precaution to make sure they have the right person. But this isn’t always the case, and some techniques for identifying suspects are more flawed than others.
The police use three common methods to have witnesses identify suspects:
- Show-up: The police bring a single person in front of a witness and ask the witness if the person is, or is not, their suspect.
- Police lineup: Several individuals stand in a row, along with the suspect, and the witness identifies one.
- Photo array: The police show the witness a series or grid of photos and ask the witness to identify the suspect.
In both the lineup and photo array, the police should include people who match different features the witness described, so if the witness remembered a tattoo on the suspect’s left shoulder, the police should show more than one man with a tattoo on his left shoulder.
The show-up is easily the most flawed and troublesome way the police could have a witness identify a suspect. It comes loaded with strong emotions that can play on people’s psychologies. The person in front of the witness will often be locked into handcuffs and will likely show anger, fear or some other emotion that could prompt the witness to identify the wrong person.
Don’t take the fall for your lookalike
The courts have learned that eyewitness testimony can be wrong, but jurors don’t always understand that. You don’t want to serve jail time for your criminal lookalike.