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"Line-up" Procedures in PA Are Subject to Challenge by Defense

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The standard for admissibility is whether, in light of the totality of the circumstances, the particular procedures used were necessary and the possibility that they led to misidentification was small

Police Line-Up

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Criminal Defense Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

Witness identifications of a suspect are subject to suppression.  The police must be careful not to suggest the result to the victim/witness.  I have always advocated for "double-blind" line-up procedures.  That is, in most police line-ups, the officer that is investigating the matter should not be involved in the procedure with the witness.  Rather, a different officer, unfamiliar with whom the accused is, should proffer the line-up to the victim.  This avoids any 'suggestions' or biases that the officer has being placed upon the witness.

An identification of an accused which is made at a lineup or showup which is "so unnecessarily suggestive and conducive to irreparable mistaken identification" that it denies due process of law is not admissible at trial.  The standard for admissibility is whether, in light of the totality of the circumstances, the particular procedures used were necessary and the possibility that they led to misidentification was small. The general guideline is to determine whether the suggestiveness of the lineup creates "a very substantial likelihood of irreparable misidentification" and if the suggestiveness is unnecessary, the evil is compounded by a gratuitous chance of misidentification.

To calculate the chance of misidentification, the courts' examination of the totality of the circumstances includes seven factors:

  1. the manner in which the identification procedure was conducted;
  2. the witness's prior opportunity to observe;
  3. the existence of any discrepancies between the witness's description and the defendant's appearance;
  4. any prior misidentification;
  5. any previous identification of the defendant;
  6. prior failure of the witness to identify the defendant;
  7. the lapse of time between the incident and the out-of-court identification.

The most important factor in the totality of the circumstances test is the opportunity of the witness to view the suspect at the time of the crime.  Using the above guidelines, repeated viewings of a defendant or of his photograph by an eyewitness may constitute an unnecessarily suggestive identification, as may the placing of a defendant in a lineup when the other participants were of a different size.

If you have been charged with a crime where the witness against you was provided with a 'line-up' or a photo array of suspects, you should know that this identification may be invalid.  Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney familiar with police line-up procedures.  You may contact Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.

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