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Why the sudden growing national concern with police lineups?

It’s not like simply choosing an individual to play on your team for a pick-up basketball game or making a quick choice from among multiple people volunteering their time at a community project.

“The goal,” says a principal with one prominent national advocacy group, “isn’t to pick someone, but to pick the right person.”

Commentator Rebecca Brown is a passionate defender of human rights and accurate outcomes at the Innocence Project. That organization was founded in 1992 as a voice and defender of innocent individuals wrongly caught up in the criminal “justice” system.

Obviously, that system is anything but just when it incarcerates persons who never committed a crime. The project focuses like a laser on that and has been instrumental in recent years in its investigatory work that has identified wrongful convictions and secured freedom for those who suffered from them. Brown’s group focuses especially on post-conviction DNA evidence in its work.

Here’s something eminently disturbing that the Innocence Project cites as reality in cases of wrongful convictions reversed owing to DNA proofs: The core catalyst driving more than 70% of those convictions in many hundreds of matters is false eyewitness identification.

In other words, people who say they saw or heard something, well, really didn’t. Specifically, they pointed at the wrong individual standing in a lineup of fellow “suspects.”

Why would they do that?

A vast trove of evidence indicates that wrong identification owes far more to one or more subtle lineup defects that subjectively influence witnesses than it does to anything simply cold-hearted or malicious on their part.

The standard police lineup has long been marked by a strong irony, namely, the continued lauding of the process despite firm evidence showing its marked shortcomings.

“The reality of witness identification is that it is one of the least-reliable pieces of evidence, and yet we put great weight on it,” says one California legislator.

We’ll take a closer look at lineups from a California perspective in our next blog post.

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