Police Lineups: Justice or Suggestion

The police lineup has been a technique for a witness to identify a defendant they had no prior connection to for decades. It was always believed that the police lineup presented eyewitness testimony. As such, there was no better evidence (other than a confession). Throughout the years, we have learned that the police lineup can be a compromised situation.

The rules of the lineup are enough; the problem is the application of said rules. Lineups are not supposed to be suggestive. As the physical lineup is deemed a critical stage, a right to counsel is supposed to be present. In a perfect world, the lineup presents justice for all. As we will learn in speaking to many of the top lawyers in the State of Michigan, we are not living in a perfect world.

Matthew McManus is the founder of McManus and Amadeo, one of the top criminal defense firms in Michigan. (https://www.mcmanusamadeo.com/). McManus is known as one of the leading researchers in the state and spoke on the topic. McManus said, “Every police agency does a lineup with their variation. Just like there is no such thing as uniformity of law, there is no uniformity in the lineup. The procedures for maintaining the evidence depend on the police agency. The Michigan State Police changed their policy in the recent past and the changes display there were problems with the concept.”

Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo and one of the top divorce lawyers in Michigan.  (https://www.mcmanusamadeo.com/). Kelley, who also coaches basketball at Divine Child High School, is well known in her community. Kelley provided her insight when she stated, “Dealing in the real world as opposed to academics is tremendously different. When you study for the Michigan Bar Exam, (https://courts.michigan.gov/courts/michigansupremecourt/ble/Pages/default.aspx) Barbri (https://www.barbri.com/) or Hugh Reed (https://www.reedbarreview.com/) will tell you that we need memory, oath, communication, and knowledge for witness identification. What we find in the real world is a lot of suggestion which calls into question everything we were taught in law school.”

Christian Wiesenberg is the founder of “The Fidelis Law Firm” and the Executive Director for “The Adolescence Redemption Project.” (https://www.linkedin.com/in/christian-wiesenberg-5632a164/). (https://www.adolescentredemptionproject.org/). Wiesenberg is a rising star in criminal defense and added, “At the Adolescence Redemption Project,” we find many juveniles that are serving time because of faulty lineups. The technique is flawed, and there needs to be accountability for those that have created suggestive lineups.”

Ashlee Duplessis is the founder of “Duplessis Law.”( https://detroitlegaldefense.com/).  Along with Brian Prain has become a force in defending capital cases. Duplessis stated, “There was a powerful article by Joseph Goldstein of the New York Times in 2019 where we see one of the “fillers” in the lineup seated in seat number 5 pointing to the defendant in seat number 6.  (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/29/nyregion/police-lineups-fair-unfair.html). That image is horrifying but is clear evidence that when done incorrectly, the lineup is an asset to the prosecution and not an objective piece of evidence.”

Megan Mast is an Associate Attorney for Tannis Schultz in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (https://www.tanisschultz.com/about-us/megan-a-mast/). She has evolved into one of the top defense lawyers in Kent County, Michigan. Mast added, “More often than not, a lineup will place the defendant in the first slot or the last. If we have a 6-person lineup, a common technique is to place the defendant in the far right of the first row as the witness will feel compelled to select somebody. Another aspect of this will be if the police break the lineup into two slots with three people on each in a split-screen setting. When that occurs, the defendant will often be placed in slot 3 in the top row or slot 6 in the bottom row. This issue does not even begin to touch on the issues with “show ups,” but there are inherent problems we need to correct.”

William Amadeo is a Partner at McManus and Amadeo and is considered by many to be the top criminal defense lawyer in Michigan.  (https://www.mcmanusamadeo.com/). Amadeo stated, “There’s not much that I can add that these other lawyers did not cover. The one thing I would advise any lawyer is to get bodycam and audio from the lineup. If not provided by the prosecution in discovery, FOIA it. If the prosecution plays fast and loose with discovery or wants to avoid the truth if there is truth to be found, set them up for a Brady violation and make their life a living hell.”

While the lineup concept may be productive on its face, the theory of how it is applied must not be suggestive. A suggestive lineup leads to constitutional violations. Those violations lead to innocent people serving time at the Michigan Department of Corrections.

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