We reported on a New Zealand study last year that seeks to test the effectiveness of including a “wild card” in a police lineup, as an additional protection to cue to the witness that “none of the above” is a perfectly valid choice. Personally, I think this is a fantastic idea — imagine the difference between a multiple choice question where “none of the above” is an option, vs. the exact same question without that option; as a test-taker, you’re far more likely to guess in the latter scenario. In the realm of police lineups, guesses often have grave consequences.
In an update on this study, researcher Dr. Rachel Zajac of Otago University notes that “The biggest misconception about lineups is that the perpetrator will be there.” Her early research suggests that providing a visual “none of the above” option, or “wild card,” in each lineup, increases the likelihood that a witness will not select a lineup member when he or she is uncertain, rather than guessing. In other words, adding the non-pick to the set of affirmative options better communicates the fact that not selecting anyone from the lineup is an acceptable choice, and may further reduce the likelihood of misidentification in a way that cautionary instructions alone do not.
On the prospects of her recommendations being adopted by law enforcement, Dr. Zajac reports: “In my experience, the police are very receptive to evidence-based ideas that would facilitate the accuracy of the evidence they solicit from witnesses.”