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Groundbreaking Study Finds Double-Blind Sequential Lineups More Accurate in Eyewitness Identifications

September 19, 2011, New York, NY – John Jay College Professor of Psychology Jennifer Dysart, one of a team of researchers, has completed a field study on eyewitness identification that found double-blind sequential lineups produce fewer mistaken eyewitness identifications than double-blind simultaneous lineups. The report, issued today by the Des Moines-based American Judicature Society (AJS) is titled "A Test of Simultaneous vs. Sequential Lineup Methods: An Initial Report of the AJS National Eyewitness Identification Field Studies" and comes on the heels of a landmark decision last month by the New Jersey Supreme Court mandating major changes in the way courts evaluate eyewitness identification evidence.

Although dozens of controlled laboratory studies have found that sequential lineup procedures – in which witnesses view one lineup member at a time - result in a significant reduction in mistaken identifications than simultaneous lineups – in which all lineup members are viewed at the same time, many police departments have been hesitant to change their procedures based on laboratory findings alone.

"This field study is the first empirical test comparing double-blind lineups in sequential and simultaneous formats with real witnesses and thus it is a monumental project in our field " said Professor Dysart. All of the lineups in this study were conducted double-blind -- meaning the officer administering the lineup did not know the suspect's identity and the witnesses were told that the officer did not know.

To read the full report, click here.

AJS, in collaboration with the Police Foundation (http://www.policefoundation.org/), the Innocence Project (http://www.innocenceproject.org/), and the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing (http://www.popcenter.org/), implemented the national field study at four law enforcement agencies to determine which lineup method -- sequential or simultaneous -- is more accurate. The Austin, Texas; Tucson, Ariz.; San Diego, Calif.; and Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. police departments participated in this research.

The field study was conducted between 2008 and 2011 using a specially-designed software application programmed by SunGard Public Sector, Inc. The software application was uploaded onto laptop computers and ensured that instructions to witnesses were consistently administered at the start of each lineup; the lineup condition (sequential or simultaneous) was randomly applied; and the order of photographs was randomized prior to the witness beginning the procedure. The computer-based lineups included one suspect and five known-innocent fillers.

"The use of true random assignment to condition, that is whether witnesses viewed a sequential or simultaneous lineup, is a critical element of the study. This allows us to draw specific conclusions about the data, something that is not possible in other field studies that lack this research control" said Dysart.

The results of the field study showed that witness who viewed sequential lineups selected the police suspect 27.3% while those who viewed a simultaneous lineup selected the suspect 25.5% of the time, a non-significant difference in suspect selection rates. With respect to filler identifications, witnesses who viewed the simultaneous lineup were more likely to mistakenly identify a lineup filler - 18.1% - than those who viewed a sequential lineup - 12.2%. Of eyewitness who positively identified someone from the procedure, those who viewed a sequential lineup chose the suspect 69.1 percent of the time as compared to a suspect identification rate of 58.4 percent obtained for simultaneous lineups.

The Police Foundation is conducting a second phase of the field study to evaluate the presence and quality of other evidence in the cases studied in the eyewitness field study. The Police Foundation is expected to release a report on the second phase in 2012.

In the coming months, Professor Dysart along with lead researcher Dr. Gary L. Wells, AJS Director of Social Science and Professor of Psychology, Iowa State University; and researcher Dr. Nancy K. Steblay, Professor of Psychology , Augsburg College (MN); will continue their analysis of the data gathered during the field studies, such as the witnesses' certainty, cross-race comparisons, lighting conditions, and the presence or absence of a weapon at the time of the crime.

Established in 1964, John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York is an international leader in educating for justice. It offers a rich liberal arts and professional studies curriculum to upwards of 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 135 nations. In teaching, scholarship and research, the College approaches justice as an applied art and science in service to society and as an ongoing conversation about fundamental human desires for fairness, equality and the rule of law. For more information, visit www.jjay.cuny.edu.

Founded in 1913, the American Judicature Society is an independent, non-partisan, membership organization working nationally to protect the integrity of the American justice system. AJS's diverse and broadly based membership – including judges, lawyers, and members of the public – promotes fair and impartial courts through research, publications, education, and advocacy for judicial reform. The work of AJS focuses primarily on judicial ethics, judicial selection, access to justice, criminal justice reform, and the jury system. For more information on AJS, visit www.ajs.org.

The Police Foundation is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving policing. Established in 1970, the foundation has conducted seminal research in police behavior, policy, and procedure, and works to transfer to local agencies the best new information about practices for dealing effectively with the full range of police operational and administrative concerns. Motivating all of the foundation's efforts is the goal of efficient, humane policing that operates within the framework of democratic principles and the highest ideals of the nation. For more information, visit www.policefoundation.org.

The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustices. For more information on the Innocence Project, visit www.innocenceproject.org.

The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing is a non-profit organization comprising affiliated police practitioners, researchers, and universities dedicated to the advancement of problem-oriented policing. Its mission is to advance the concept and practice of problem-oriented policing in open and democratic societies. It does so by making readily accessible information about ways in which police can more effectively address specific crime and disorder problems. For more information, visit www.popcenter.org

Contact:
Jennifer Dysart, Project Scientist, Professor of Psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice 212-484-1160, jdysart@jjay.cuny.edu