Interviewing Eye Witnesses

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1905 Words
Date:  2022-11-21

The process of bringing perpetrators of a crime to justice is quite an elaborate and delicate one. The United States has a criminal justice system that upholds both state and federal constitutions. The police are expected to uphold the law in the identification of suspects as well as the interviewing of both the suspected perpetrators, distractors and the witnesses. Although lineups may not be admitted into evidence, the process of lining up suspects and helping witnesses identify them is an integral part of evidence collection. The importance of the process is underscored by both the psychologies of the perpetrators, the witnesses and the distractors. The main goal is to establish the truth and as such, bias and assumptions of any nature must be avoided (Fitzgerald et al., 2013). This essay discusses the process of identifying perpetrators and gathering evidence from interviews concerning criminal incidents.

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Rules That Apply To Line-Ups

To conduct the process of identifying suspects within the confines of American law, there are several rules must be followed. The first rule is that; the witness needs to have a vivid memory of the suspect, however long ago the crime may have taken place. There is no room for error in lineup identifications. The second rule is that the defendant's counsel is necessary at a line up to ensure that they can grill the witness and cast aspersions on the ability of the witness to recall (Gronlund et al., 2012). The identification of the perpetrators in front of their counsel ensures that there is no doubt concerning the ability of the witness to recall the events of the incident. Aside from these rules, there is also the Sixth Amendment which requires the presence of the defendant at a pre-trial as long as the defendant is present.

Meeting the Witness

As a prosecutor, meeting the witness is a delicate step to ensuring that justice is served. The law is very strict on witness interference and coaching. To prevent such possibilities, the witness meeting should be done in disclosed locations and recorded for submission into evidence. The meeting should be as brief as possible and the questions asked need to establish whether or not the witnesses possess material and testimonial evidence that is admissible in court (Hollien, 2012). The prosecutor then needs to tell the witness what to expect in the course of the proceedings, and offer all resources available from the criminal justice system to protect the life and integrity of the witness. Finally, the prosecutor needs to warn the witness concerning court violations such as contempt and perjury. Witnesses are also required at times to appear in court and as such should be ready to do so if called upon.

Meeting With the Potential Suspect

The potential suspect to a crime can be either a result of witness reports and lineups or as a result of a confrontation with the police. The matter of how the suspect was brought into custody often affects how they formulate their defense. As a prosecutor, it is necessary to ascertain the truth and gather facts into evidence, by examining the suspect's account as well as the witness statement (Mastroberardino, Natali, & Candel, 2012). The suspect needs to be represented by an attorney as they need a prosecuting lawyer or investigating police officer. The meeting with the potential suspect needs to be objective, recorded, and the Sixth Amendment rights of the suspect should be respected as well. The suspect needs to be aware of their rights as per the state and federal constitution. They should also be read out the charges against them even as the interview takes place for them to prepare their defense well.

Meeting with the Distractors

A successful criminal eye witness line up needs to have several distractors. These distractors help establish the correctness or validity of witness statements and claims concerning the suspect. Distractors need to be aware of the process at hand, and should voluntarily offer their assistance to the criminal justice system without being cajoled. Their instructions should be to line up next to the suspect before the identification process. They are not supposed to have any conversations with each other in the course of the process, and they should also ensure that they maintain a certain posture and facial expression in the identification process (Steblay, Tix, & Benson, 2013). In the course of the lineup, several photos are taken of the distractors as well as the suspect, for possible presentation into evidence. The contribution of the distractors is important, and they need to know how well they need to play their role in the lineup.

Choosing Other Police Officers to Assist

A lineup is a potential crime scene as it has a suspected criminal within it. For safety reasons, police officers need to be within the room where the lineup is taking place, probably close to the persons in the lineup. In some cases, the potential suspects, as well as the distractors, are dressed in a remand uniform and handcuffed as well. Police officers are chosen from members of the police precinct where the crime took place, with the assistance of the police chief. A minimum of three officers are necessary for the process, but where the suspects exceed ten, there may be a need for additional law enforcement officers within the lineup. It is important to ensure that the witness does not feel intimidated by the police presence in the process. Where necessary, these officers can dress in casual wear. Police officers in the lineup process are not allowed to question any of the suspects or talk to the witness. Officers who made the arrest should thus not be involved in the lineup (Wells, Smalarz, & Smith, 2015).

Documenting the Procedure

Proper documentation of the lineup process is required by law. It is vital to detail the key elements involved in the process, the number and name of suspects involved, the location of the process, as well as the outcome. The procedure needs to be presented to the distractors and to the witness before the actual lineup can be conducted. Many states have detailed steps on how to conduct a lineup. The procedure should thus be applied as per the legal provisions of state and federal law (Cederborg et al., 2013). The defendant's counsel is at liberty to question any aspects of the lineup they feel uncomfortable with. The procedure needs to be written down as conducted, offering details to investigating offers as to the state of the witness account at the time. The procedure should also include instructions offered to all participating persons and how well they followed the instructions as well.

Conducting the Line-up

The lineup should be conducted within the confines of a police station. It should be done by a prosecuting lawyer, in the presence of opposing counsel. The process should not take more than an hour from the time the lineup is presented to the time the suspect is identified. Of importance is to ensure that there are as many distractors as possible, and as such, there can be two or three lineups to ensure that the witness can effectively identify the suspect and distinguish them from the distractors in any context. It is also critical to ensure that the handling of the suspect and the distractors are similar, so as not to present possible hint as to the arrested party in the lineup (Wagstaff et al., 2011). The process must thus be free of unnecessary errors, hints or victimization. As much as the prosecution counsel can talk to the witness, the prosecution counsel can also taunt the witness and cast doubt on their suspect picks.

Debriefing the Witness

Once the identification has been made, and the suspect identified, the witness needs to be debriefed by both opposing counsels, in a recorded interview. The record should include facts concerning their ability to give an account statement in court. They should also sign their statements and similarly cooperate with both counsels to establish the truth and facts of the case. While debriefing the witness, it is important to notify them that upon identifying the suspect, their involvement in the case is paramount to the time the case is concluded. Witnesses, however, need to know that they can withdraw their statements at any time, as long as it is within a reasonable period before the case is filed in court. The process of debriefing the witness should be relatively short and include warnings concerning possible collusion with any of the opposing counsels. Witness protection can be offered by the criminal justice system if necessary at this point (Amendola & Wixted, 2015).

Documenting Your Findings

In the final documentation of findings, it is important for there to be details concerning the expert opinion of the prosecution lawyer. He or she needs to state on record whether they believe the witness account and the success of the process. Similar documentation is done by the defense counsels. The possible flaws in the ability of the witness to recall their alibi needs to be established at this point. The prosecution lawyer then needs to establish whether or not to use the witness in the development of the case and have them sign witness statements concerning what they believe happened on the material day of the crime (Steblay, 2011). The documentation of the process needs to include all aspects that took place, including possible problems with the suspect, the police or the opposing counsel. All information documented can be admitted to court evidence. Conclusion

A lineup is a queue of suspects that is presented to a witness, to identify the perpetrators. The witness needs to have come into contact or at least seen one or all of the suspects for the line up to be a successful one. Once identification is made, it is important to ensure that the debriefing of the witness is done and the whole process of getting the police officers involved as well as meeting with the potential suspect does not infringe on their constitutional rights. Mistakes in the identification process, which is part of pre-trial, can lead to technicalities that can effectively lead to a dismissal of the case.


Amendola, K. L., & Wixted, J. T. (2015). Comparing the diagnostic accuracy of suspect identifications made by actual eyewitnesses from simultaneous and sequential lineups in a randomized field trial. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 11(2), 263-284.

Cederborg, A. C., Alm, C., Lima da Silva Nises, D., & Lamb, M. E. (2013). Investigative interviewing of alleged child abuse victims: An evaluation of a new training programme for investigative interviewers. Police Practice and Research, 14(3), 242-254.

Fitzgerald, R. J., Price, H. L., Oriet, C., & Charman, S. D. (2013). The effect of suspect-filler similarity on eyewitness identification decisions: A meta-analysis. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 19(2), 151.

Gronlund, S. D., Carlson, C. A., Neuschatz, J. S., Goodsell, C. A., Wetmore, S. A., Wooten, A., & Graham, M. (2012). Showups versus lineups: An evaluation using ROC analysis. Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 1(4), 221-228.

Hollien, H. (2012). On earwitness lineups. Investigative Sciences Journal, 4(1).

Mastroberardino, S., Natali, V., & Candel, I. (2012). The effect of eye closure on children's eyewitness testimonies. Psychology, Crime & Law, 18(3), 245-257.

Steblay, N. K. (2011). What we know now: The Evanston Illinois field lineups. Law and Human Behavior, 35(1), 1-12.

Steblay, N. K., Tix, R. W., & Benson, S. L. (2013). Double exposure: The effects of repeated identification lineups on eyewitness accuracy. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 27(5), 644-654.

Wagstaff, G. F., Wheatcroft, J. M., Caddick, A. M., Kirby, L. J., & Lamont, E. (2011). Enhancing witness memory with techniques derived...

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Interviewing Eye Witnesses. (2022, Nov 21). Retrieved from

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