What Is a Line-Up and Show Up?

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In a perfect world, a law enforcement officer locates a reliable eye-witness to a crime and the eye-witness testifies at trial. Of course, we don't operate in a perfect world, but police officers still spend a good deal of time trying to locate witnesses when a crime has occurred. Once a potential witness is located, however, the witness must identify the perpetrator. To accomplish this, law enforcement officers frequently use a line-up or show-up.

A line-up can be conducted in person or by using a photo array. If done in person, a line-up involves presenting a series of people (typically six) who have similar physical characteristics to the suspect. The witness is hidden behind a two-way mirror so the individuals in the line-up cannot see the witness but the witness can see them. Among the group is the actual suspect. The witness is then asked to pick out the suspect from the line-up. When a photo array is used a law enforcement officer presents a set of photos (again, usually six) to the witness. The individuals in the photos should all have similar characteristics. The witness is then asked if the suspect is among the photos.

A show-up involves presenting just a single suspect to the witness to see if the witness can identify the suspect. This method is usually only used while in the field. For example, if a mugging just occurred and the police believe they caught the perpetrator close to the scene they might bring the witness to where the suspect was apprehended and ask the witness if the suspect is indeed the perpetrator.

Both line-ups and show ups are problematic when used as evidence in court. Both are extremely vulnerable to suggestion on the part of the law enforcement officer. An officer may communicate who the identity of the true suspect is to the witness during a line-up. Sometimes this is done on purpose while in other cases it is done without the officer even realizing he or she is doing it. Because witnesses tend to be nervous and confused anyway, even a subtle suggestion from a law enforcement officer can cause a witness to make an identification that is far from reliable. A show-up is even more susceptible to suggestion. In a show-up the officer is all but telling the witness that the individual in question is the perpetrator. All the witness needs to do is confirm that fact.

Witness identification is notoriously unreliable. If you are facing criminal charges and a line-up or show up was conducted during the investigation of your case, click here for a consultation with an experienced New York criminal defense attorney to discuss your defense.

You have rights and should use them. You are entitled to have an attorney present and represent you throughout the proceedings to even the playing field; however, you must exercise your right to counsel by telling the prosecutor or police officer that you do not want to answer any questions until you have an attorney with you. If you do not ask, they will not get one and they will keep questioning you until they get something. Protect all of your Constitutional rights.

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