Photo Lineups: American Police Catching up with Canada

One of the recommendations that flowed from the Sophonow Inquiry (2000-2001) into the wrongful conviction of Thomas Sophonow centered on how police conduct photo lineups.  At the time, the practice in Winnipeg and among most police agencies in North America was to lay out a prescribed number of photographs (usually 10) before a witness who had observed a suspect and ask them to identify the suspect they had observed.  

The Sophonow Inquiry recommended that photographs of suspects be presented sequentially, one at a time.  This procedure was adopted by Winnipeg Police almost a decade ago.

Responding to a series of wrongful convictions in the United States, the Dallas Police Department started using sequential photo lineups earlier this year.  Currently five American states, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia either have revamped or are in the process of revamping their photo line up procedures. 

Sequential lineups tend to focus a witness to compare their recollection of a suspect with just one photograph.  The previous approach, it is argued, causes witnesses to conduct comparisons between photos and, and resulted in a greater likelihood of mistaken identification.