Austin Shifts to Sequential Lineups In Effort to Limit Wrongful Arrests


Austin police have altered how they conduct photo lineups to identify suspects, a long-used investigative technique that has come under widespread scrutiny in recent years, reports the Austin American-Statesman. As of Sunday, detectives are giving witnesses in the vast majority of their cases images of potential suspects one by one, or sequentially, rather than simultaneously. Experts argue that the use of sequential lineups reduces the likelihood of accusing the wrong person of a crime. “The Austin Police Department understands the importance of doing everything we possibly can to limit the potential for someone to be wrongfully charged,” said Chief Art Acevedo. “We'd rather go with zero arrests than to arrest the wrong person.”

He said the department is among the first wave of those across the U.S. to adopt the sequential lineup policy. The simultaneous lineup process will be used in only a small percentage of cases, such as some involving child witnesses, Acevedo said. The new policy was put into effect after an effort to train detectives in recent months. The move follows a national study in 2011. The process has especially come under scrutiny in Texas, which leads the country in post-conviction DNA exonerations, says the Innocence Project, a group that works to overturn wrongful convictions. A 2011 American Judicature Society study, using data primarily from the Austin Police Department, found that having a witness view one photograph at a time produced fewer mistaken identifications than lineups presenting all of the photographs at once.

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