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Maryland’s reforms for protecting the innocent

On Behalf of | Mar 1, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Maryland has been at the forefront of reforming criminal justice practices, including using police lineups. Police lineups are often crucial to criminal investigations. However, there is growing concern that lineups are biased and can lead to wrongful convictions.

The flaws of lineups

Criminal defense attorneys argue that lineup procedures can be flawed and biased in various ways. One of the most significant concerns is that the lineup administrator can unintentionally or intentionally influence the witness’s identification of the suspect.

The administrator may unconsciously cue the witness to choose the suspect they believe is guilty. Alternatively, the administrator may consciously choose suspects they know are more likely to be picked, thus leading to a wrongful conviction.

Influential cues

Research has shown that lineup administrators may use various cues that can influence the witness’s decision.

For instance, an administrator may use verbal or nonverbal cues that suggest to the witness which person to choose. Moreover, the administrator may present the lineup in a way that leads the witness to choose a particular suspect. For instance, the administrator may present the suspect in a way that makes them stand out, such as by using distinctive clothing or physical attributes.

Police bias

Another potential source of bias in police lineups is the lineup’s composition. Research has shown that the presence of fillers, that is, people who are not suspects, can lead to wrongful identification. In addition, when the lineup contains people who do not match the description of the suspect given by the witness, they can create confusion and lead the witness to choose someone who is not the perpetrator.

Impartial lineup adminstrators

In response to these concerns, Maryland has reformed its lineup procedures. For example, the state now requires that lineups be conducted by someone who is not involved in the investigation and does not know who the suspect is. Moreover, the lineup administrator must inform the witness that the suspect is in the lineup and that the witness’s failure to identify anyone does not mean they did not commit the crime.

Lineup procedure reforms

Police lineups are essential in criminal investigations, but they have flaws. Research has shown that lineup administrators can unintentionally or intentionally influence the witness’s decision, and the lineup’s composition can also be biased.

To protect the innocent, proper lineup procedures must be used to minimize the potential for bias and error. Maryland’s reforms are a step in the right direction, but more work needs to be done to ensure that lineups are fair and accurate.