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Police Lineups in California

California Laws and Procedures on Police Lineups

Were you identified in a police lineup as a suspect who committed a crime? If an eyewitness can positively identify a suspect out of a group on people, it can be used as critical evidence in a jury trial.

Police Lineups in California
Police lineups in California are used for a witness to identify a crime suspect among other similar looking people.

In theory, a police lineup places the crime suspect among similar-looking individuals for the crime's eyewitness to identify, without knowing from the lineup itself who the suspect is.

If the eyewitness picks the suspect out of the lineup as matching the eyewitness's recollection, then the suspect faces strong evidence for a conviction at the upcoming criminal jury trial.

Police may also use photo lineups, placing the suspect's photograph in a stack of photos of similar-looking persons, for the eyewitness to pick out based on recollection.

The problem with lineups, though, is that eyewitness recollections can be notoriously unreliable. Also, many procedures are conducted improperly that can influence an eyewitness to identity a certain suspect.

There are three main types of police lineups:

  • live lineup – witness views suspect live with several similar looking people;
  • photo lineup – witness views only photos of suspects with other people;
  • showups – witness views just the suspect.

There have been some recent new procedures put in place Under California Penal Code 859.7 PC for photo and live police line-ups to improve accuracy and reduce misconduct, such as:

  • double-blind lineup, meaning the police officer doesn't know the suspect;
  • police can't tell witness if they picked the right suspect;
  • witness told suspect might not be in the lineup;
  • keeping multiple witnesses separate from each other.

In order to give readers a better understanding of police line-ups in the state of California, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing a review below.

Unreliability of Eyewitnesses

The inherent unreliability of eyewitness recollection then leads to a bigger problem. The police can easily manipulate lineups to unfairly induce eyewitnesses to identify the suspect when the suspect did not commit the crime.

The many manipulative practices undermining a lineup's integrity include:

Unreliability of Eyewitness in Police Lineups
A major issue with lineups is that police can manipulate an eyewitness to identify a suspect who didn't commit the crime.
  • the eyewitness views a one-person show up of only the suspect;
  • the eyewitness views the suspect in the lineup before describing the suspect;
  • multiple eyewitnesses view a lineup together, inducing agreement;
  • the officer presenting the lineup subtly signals who the suspect is;
  • the officer urges the eyewitness to consider the suspect;
  • the officer promptly validates impressions identifying the suspect;
  • the officer presents multiple suspects and few fillers in a single lineup;
  • the lineup includes fillers who look unlike the eyewitness description;
  • the lineup includes fillers who look unlike the suspect; and
  • a photo lineup places the suspect's photo at the top of the stack.

Suspects Right to A Lawyer

The potential problems with a lineup are so many, and mistaken eyewitness identification is so unfairly compelling, that the U.S. Supreme Court, in its Wade opinion, held that the suspect has a right to counsel at the lineup.

A lineup, the Court held, is a critical stage of any prosecution. Having your own lawyer present at a lineup may ensure that police conduct the lineup fairly, according to recognized lineup practices and rules. Your lawyer will also have observed and documented any unfair lineup practice.

Why California Police Lineups Must Be Fair

The Constitution's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee due process of law when federal or state action deprives an individual of life, liberty, or property.

Due process means that state and federal authorities who charge crimes must follow fundamentally fair procedures.

Federal and state opinions give case-by-case guides as to what constitutes a fair or unfair lineup.

Skilled counsel can advocate that case precedent in your defense of a charge supported by lineup identification.

New Procedures for California Police Lineups – PC 859.7

As stated above, California offers suspects even clearer lineup authority than merely that case law.

California statute gives suspects facing lineup procedures new, more-protective lineup rights beyond those caselaw guides.

California Senate Bill 923, codified at Penal Code 859.7 PC recently mandated several specific lineup rules for state criminal charges, including:

New Procedures for California Police Lineups – PC 859.7
California Senate Bill 923 outlines new procedures for eyewitness identification of a suspect in police lineups.
  • the eyewitness must first describe the suspect before seeing the lineup;
  • fillers must resemble the eyewitness's pre-lineup description;
  • each of multiple eyewitnesses must view the lineup separately;
  • the officer presenting the lineup must not know who the suspect is;
  • the eyewitness must hear that the suspect may not be in the lineup at all;
  • the eyewitness must hear investigation continues without identification;
  • only one suspect for each lineup;
  • the officer must not make any suggestive statement about the suspect;
  • the officer must not validate the eyewitness's identification; and
  • the eyewitness must promptly report the confidence in identification.

Electronic Recording of Police Lineup – Penal Code 859.7(11) PC

California Penal Code 859.7(11) PC includes one more provision enabling a criminal defense lawyer to challenge an unfair lineup, which states:  

  • “an electronic audio-visual recording of the lineup shall be made of the identification procedure.”

To the well-trained eye, the recording's review may reveal one or more violations of the above constitutional and statutory rules.

Motion to suppress evidence – Penal Code 1538.5 PC 

In that instance, California's criminal procedure permits defense counsel to file PC 1538.5 motion to suppress lineup-identification evidence.

If the court grants the motion to suppress because the lineup was unfair, barring the lineup evidence, then the a PC 995 motion to dismiss the charge can be filed if the remaining evidence does not support probable cause that the defendant committed the charged crime.

Evans v. Supreme Court of California

California's Supreme Court, in its Evans case, gave defendants incriminated by an unfair lineup one more potential remedy: a fair lineup of their own.

The trial judge may grant the defendant an Evans lineup if proving the charge depends on eyewitness identification, and the defendant's counsel shows a reasonable likelihood of mistaken identification that a proper lineup could resolve.

Challenging an Unfair Police Lineup in California

You see how critical competent counsel can be in criminal prosecutions involving eyewitness identification.

We might be able to convince the judge by filing a motion the procedures in the lineup were unfair and prevent the results from being used against you at trial, such as:

Challenging an Unfair Police Lineup in California
Contact Eisner Gorin LLP to learn how we can help you challenge an unfair police line.
  • the procedures used by the police in the lineup were too suggestive; and
  • the results from the witness were unreliable due to improper procedures.

If your case is in a jury trial, we can use the testimony of an expert witness who can testify on the unreliability of eyewitness identifications.

We know how police use the above and other methods to manipulate lineups unfairly.

We also know the constitutional and statutory rules for fair lineup procedures and exclude eyewitness identification based on a fundamentally unfair lineup.

Increase your chances to exclude unfairly incriminating evidence like mistaken lineup identification by contacting our team of experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-rated criminal defense law firm representing clients in all Southern California courts, including Los Angeles County, Orange County, Ventura County, Riverside, and San Bernardino.

Our office is located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Our main office is right next to the Van Nuys Court at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401. Contact our office for an immediate consultation at (877) 781-1570.

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