Effect of Cross-racial Identification on Eyewitness Credibility in Police Line-ups

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23rd Sep 2019 Psychology Reference this


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Mistaken Identification

How does cross-racial identification affect an eyewitness’s credibility during a police lineup?


How can cross-racial identification affect an eyewitness’s credibility during a police lineup?


 This paper will explain the effectiveness of a photo lineup in catching a criminal and how certain variables can get in the way of identifying a suspect. It will also answer the question, “How often does cross-racial identification impact a witness’s ability to identify a suspect?” The purpose of this research paper is to provide a background of police lineups and the types of lineups. Furthermore, this research paper is going to define certain terms such as cross-racial identification, sequential lineup, simultaneous lineup, to name a few. It will also give more information about the target of the experiment.


Lineups are a police tactic that utilizes an eyewitness (a person who observes a crime or event)to identify an individual suspected of a crime. They consist of showing an eyewitness four or five fillers, with the police suspect mixed in. Fillers are the decoys or the individuals that are there to test the accuracy of a witness’s memory of the suspect. (Doyle, p.165). These fillers usually resemble the suspect in some way. The purpose of a photo lineup is to test the eyewitness’s credibility in their identification of the suspect. They are many ways a lineup presented. Whether it’s a sequential or simultaneous lineup or a lineup shown live or through photo identification. The type of lineup (sequential or simultaneous) can affect the level of credibility of the eyewitness. Sequential lineups are when the people in the lineup are shown to the witness one by one, whether live or through mugshots. Simultaneous lineups are when the suspects are shown all at once. (Bergman, p.101)

Factors in a lineup that can cause mistaken identification are stress, the presence of another object, cross-racial identification, pressure to select, pressure to align ones’ story with that of another witness, to name a few. These variables can lead witnesses to mistakenly identify individuals. One of the factors, cross-racial identification, is when eyewitnesses have to identify someone from a different race. This can cause witnesses to be less accurate. Cross-racial identification affects anyone, no matter their racial group. Another factor, like the presence of another object, can inhibit the witness from correctly finding the culprit, or the person who committed a crime. (Bergman, p.105)

When doing a lineup,the fillers that are selected are chosen because  of a certain resemblance to the police suspect. These fillers are effective in testing the witness’s memory. Another way police officers test witnesses, is by doing blank lineups. Blank lineups are lineups that don’t include the suspect. Police officers show a witness five to six individuals that had nothing to do with the crime. If a witness identifies one of the people in the blank lineup, it shows police that this witness isn’t someone they should rely on in the investigation. (Bergman, p.105)

 During lineups, as mentioned before, there are several variables that play a role in the identification of a certain person. Two factors are confidence level and cross-racial identification. Confidence level is the level of confidence that the witness portrays during and after they have identified an individual. Some witnesses are so adamant in their choice, even though they chose the wrong person. (Doyle, p.45). Cross-racial identification, as mentioned before, is when a witness has to identify someone from a different racial group. (Bergman, p.105) Author, Paul Bergman, J.D., states,” Eyewitnesses are less accurate when asked to identify someone of a different race. This factor affects members of all racial groups.”(105)

 A person’s confidence might go down once they see the faces looking back at them. THe details of an event can get blurred especially if it was stressful. Upon seeing the choices, a person might stumble and end up picking the wrong person, resulting in mistaken identification.

 Another aspect of a lineup that needs to be taken into consideration is the timing between the incident and the lineup. The memory of a witness can’t retain every exact detail of the culprit, especially if it was only once in which the witness came in contact with the person. The ideal time to bring a witness in for identification is unknown and varies greatly because people tend to have different amounts of information that they can retain in their memory.

 Live lineups usually occur in the police station in a room that is specifically designed for a lineup. The room has one-way glass so that the suspect can not see the witness. However, for photo lineups, these usually occur in police stations, in the areas that aren’t especially crowded.


 My science project is about how cross-racial identification effects the accuracy of a witness’s identification of a suspect. Cross-racial identification can deeply affect the accuracy of a lineup because it is harder for someone to identify a person of a different race.  This can affect the witness’s memory and credibility.  This can show how other factors are in play during a lineup.

 In this science experiment, this variable will be tested to see what can be done to prevent a variable like this get in the way of catching a criminal. The goal is to gather information about how many people mistakenly identify the suspect due to this one variable.


  • Bergman, Paul. The Criminal Law Handbook:Know Your Rights Survive the System. Nolo, 2015. Print.
  • Cole, Simon A. Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification. Harvard University Press, 2001. Print.
  • Doyle, James M. True Witness: Cops, Courts, Science, and the Battle Against Misidentification. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Print.
  • Goldschmidt, Brad.”The Photo Lineup: An Important Investigatory Tool.”  Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Bulletin. United States Department of Justice, 13 September 2013.Web. 10 December 2018 .https://leb.fbi.gov/articles/perspective/perspective-the-photo-lineup-an-important-investigatory-tool
  • Israel, Jerold H. Criminal Procedure: Constitutional Limitations in a Nutshell. St. Paul: Thomson/ West, 2006. Print.
  • Schuster, Beth. “Police Lineups: Making Eyewitness Identification More Reliable” National Institute of Justice. October 2007. Web. 29 Nov. 2018. https://www.nij.gov/journals/258/Pages/police-lineups.aspx
  • Sullivan, Larry E. and Marie S. Rosen. “Eyewitnesses.” Encyclopedia of Law Enforcement. Sage Publications, Inc., 2005. 185-87. Print.


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