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Interactive Lineups Are a Promising New Tool to Improve Accuracy of Suspect Identification by Eyewitnesses

by Jo Ellen Nott

Wrongful convictions are a troubling aspect of the criminal justice system in the United States. Most experts estimate the rate of falsely convicted prisoners to be between four and six percent.

Studies report that eyewitness misidentification of strangers is the leading cause of wrongful convictions, contributing to around 70 percent of DNA-overturned convictions, according to the Innocence Project. Compounding the problem for justice-involved individuals from communities of color, NPR reporter Alana Wise points out that “people have a really hard time identifying individuals who are of a different race than they are.”

The current technology used to conduct suspect identification has not changed very much over the last 100 years. Static photo lineups yield 50 percent error rates with innocent bystanders often identified as the perpetrator. Sequential video lineups have shown mixed results, and simultaneous photo arrays have not done much better.

Good news is on the horizon, however. Researchers at the University of Birmingham in England are working on a promising solution to dramatically improve eyewitness accuracy. Headed by Ph.D. student Marlene Myer, the researchers are conducting and analyzing interactive lineups with 3D faces that witnesses can explore dynamically.

Interactive lineups allow witnesses to rotate and view faces from any angle, using a computer mouse for active exploration and comparison. This, according to the study, boosts accuracy by 27-35% over photo arrays and 35-75% over video lineups.

Mayer says the interactive lineups studied by her team were “beneficial regardless of the perpetrator encoding viewpoint (i.e., front or profile). In the real world, eyewitnesses may view a perpetrator from multiple perspectives. The interactive procedure allows witnesses to adjust face viewpoints to match their memory of the crime, which may be beneficial for memory retrieval.”

The University of Birmingham study is the first to directly compare interactive lineups with video or photo lineups. The adoption of this technology by law enforcement agencies can revolutionize eyewitness identification. Some of the positive outcomes of using interactive lineups are a reduction in wrongful convictions, fairer judicial proceedings, and improved criminal investigations.  


Sources: Forensic Mag, NPR, PNAS

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