Legislators in Connecticut will consider a bill today that would require that lineups be conducted by an officer unaware of the identity of the suspect so as to avoid suggestion, as is the norm in scientific study, and also to present lineup photos sequentially (one at a time), rather than simultaneously. In order for the bill to reach the full assembly for a vote, it would have to make it out of the Judiciary Committee by 5:00 today.
State Rep. Mike Lawlor, a former prosecutor and co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, signaled that the double-blind provision could pass, but without the sequential provision. I don’t know what the chances of that really are, but that would be a substantial step in the right direction, since the double-blind provision is by far the most important reform being proposed.
Everything we know about social science tells us that, whether intentional or not, when human subjects are being probed for information and the person doing the probing anticipates a specific answer, that answer tends to be communicated to the subject. Lineups are no different, and simply requiring that they are conducted by someone unaware of the identity of the suspect could go a long way to curbing wrongful convictions resulting from faulty identification procedures.
Despite Lawlor’s resistance to the idea due to the purported cost issues associated with bringing in an officer to administer the lineup who is not aware of the identity of the suspect, simple alternatives are available at zero cost, such as the “folder method” in which a witness peruses lineup photos in a series of folders, with the individual photos out of view of the officer. (More info on the “folder method” here, p. 10 (PDF).)
It’s time for legislators to stop dragging their feet and making unfounded excuses to avoid taking simple steps to curb wrongful convictions. I’ll plan to post an update once I find out if Connecticut does the right thing this afternoon.
UPDATE: Per Gideon in the comments, another year will pass in Connecticut without improvements to the police procedures at the root of wrongful convictions. Shameful indeed.