When police officers in most parts of the country ask eyewitnesses to pick a suspect out of a photo array, they shown them all of the images at the same time. This is called a six-pack by police officers and a simultaneous photo lineup by experts, and it often leads to misidentifications. Witnesses are less likely to pick out the photograph of an innocent person when they are shown photographs one at a time, which is how things are done in New Jersey.
New Jersey leads the way
The way police officers conduct lineups in New Jersey were revised after DNA tests proved that a man who had been convicted of rape largely based on eyewitness testimony was innocent. Following this discovery, the then-New Jersey Attorney General John Farmer introduced new law enforcement lineup procedures based on guidelines from the National Institute of Justice. The new policy was mandatory, and it made New Jersey the first state in the country to adopt the double-blind sequential lineup procedure.
Double-blind sequential lineups
Witnesses are now shown images one at a time in New Jersey, and the police officer conducting the lineup does not know who the suspect is. This is how photo lineups are conducted in many other parts of the world, but few states in America follow the procedure. Double-blind sequential lineups are more reliable because witnesses do not feel under pressure to make an identification, and police officers are unable to provide them with hints if they do not know who the suspect is. Eyewitness testimony can be very powerful, which is why criminal defense attorneys and advocacy groups like the Innocence Project have called for lineup reform.
The cost of criminal justice reform
The criminal justice system in New Jersey is often criticized for treating poor and minority suspects unfairly, but the way photo lineups are conducted is one area where the Garden State stands out. Unfortunately, a man spent years behind bars for a crime he did not commit before law enforcement procedures were changed. Prosecutors and police officers sometimes focus on results rather than guilt or innocence, and it usually takes a major miscarriage of justice to produce reform.