The New Zealand Herald is reporting today that a New Zealand researcher will receive a government-funded grant in the amount of $170,000 to study factors affecting the reliability of eyewitness memory, in support of an effort to reduce wrongful convictions in the country. Dr. Rachel Zajac of the University of Otago will use some of the money to test a lineup modification on adults that was previously tested on children:
A previous study found that false identifications decreased dramatically when children were given the opportunity to point to an additional photograph depicting a silhouetted figure with a question mark superimposed, rather than verbally identifying a person in a line-up.
Following the success of the “non-pick pick” option in the earlier study with children, Dr. Zajac will conduct a similar test to determine if the same reduction in false IDs carries over when the modification is tested on adults. This strikes me as sort of a visual take on the “you don’t have to pick anyone” lineup instruction, which could conceivably serve as a stronger deterrent to guessing than the instruction alone. (It turns out the old Rush lyric applies as well to lineups as anything else: If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.)
Since a witness actually sees the “non-pick” as one of the several choices presented in this test condition, it seems possible that not choosing anyone will appear as a more viable option in cases where witnesses are genuinely uncertain, as compared to a lineup comprised solely of affirmative choices, where the only acknowledgment of the non-choice as an option was an instruction read prior to viewing. I’ll be interested to see the results.