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What are your rights in a police lineup?

You have probably seen TV crimes shows where a witness watches through two-way glass while people in a lineup stand looking around nervously. One of the people on the other side of the glass is the suspect police want the witness to identify. For the sake of drama, the witness may definitively point to the suspect, whose face is unforgettable, or frustrate police by saying it was too dark and happened too fast to get a good look.

It may have seemed like good entertainment at the time, but now that you stand accused of a crime, you may wonder what rights you have if police place you in a lineup. Eyewitness identification can be an important weapon in a prosecutor's courtroom arsenal, and you would benefit from having a good understanding of how authorities can use this investigative tool against you.

Witnesses make mistakes

Despite the fact that witnesses are notoriously unreliable, they are convincing to a jury. A witness who identities you in a lineup and subsequently testifies that you were at the scene of a crime may be enough to erase any reasonable doubt from the mind of a juror. Nevertheless, studies show that after DNA exonerates prison inmates, 75 percent of the time those convictions had followed eyewitness misidentification during trial. Some common reasons why witness testimony may be unreliable include the following:

  • Crimes often happen too quickly for someone to get a good look at the perpetrator.
  • Witnesses typically focus on the weapon, not the face of the person holding it.
  • Witnesses are not often close enough to the incident to see clearly, especially if it occurs at night.
  • Media reports or their own experiences may taint a witness's memory.
  • A witness may not testify in court until months or years after the crime.

Added to the untrustworthiness of witness observations and memory is the sway law enforcement may have on a witness who is brought before a lineup. Police may purposely or inadvertently reveal to a witness that you are the suspect by dressing you differently from the other members of a lineup or somehow signaling your identity to the witness.

Because there are many opportunities for crucial mistakes during a police lineup, you would be wise to exercise your Sixth Amendment right to have legal counsel with you during these proceedings. In fact, at every step of the criminal process, you could benefit from the advice and advocacy of a skillful Texas attorney who will defend your rights and fight for the best possible outcome for you.

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Sergi & Associates, P.C.
329 South Guadalupe Street
San Marcos, TX 78666

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