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No More Photo Line ups in Austin – How this can actually be worse for mistaken Identification

On Monday, Austin Police Department announced that they have changed the way they will be conducting photo lineups to identify suspects in criminal investigations. After many public cases of wrongful conviction, the use of line ups has come under major scrutiny, and has in large part been the blame for wrongful convictions.

In the majority of cases, Austin Police Department will start showing witnesses in a criminal investigation, pictures of potential suspects, one by one, instead of in a group. There will still be group line up pictures used in a small number of cases to identify suspects in cases, specifically in cases involving child witnesses.

According to Chief Art Acevedo, he believes this new process can limit the potential for someone to be wrongfully charged. He said “We’d rather go with zero arrests than to arrest the wrong person.”

Frankly, I can see how the new process can actually cause more people to be wrongfully charged. There will inevitably be studies after this policy has been around. I imagine the studies might indicate that the order the pictures are shown in can have a major effect on the likelihood of identification. Will they show one picture longer than the other? Even though the policy requires the photos to be shown “double blind,” in which neither the person administering the photos nor the witness knows which person is the suspect, there are all kinds of things that this new process can open up when it comes to witness ID.

I applaud the effort of the new policy. But I see many problems in the near future with this new policy. The power of suggestion is mighty, often more so than one’s memory, and this policy lends itself for equal if not more powers of suggestion and manipulation than the line up.