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What Are Your Rights During a Police Lineup?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

If there's one piece of criminal procedure that's overplayed in crime dramas, it's the police lineup. Sure, it's a real part of criminal investigation, but it's not the drama-filled, nail-biting process that Hollywood makes it look like.

OK, maybe that's not true if you're one of the people in the lineup, waiting to see if you're identified as "the guy who did it." That's especially true if you didn't do it.

In fact, the lineup is so important that courts have come up with a lot of rules about how the process should be done.

Your Right to an Attorney

If you're ever one of the suspects in a physical lineup, the first thing to remember is that you have a right to an attorney.

That right isn't just confined to trial. It applies at every "critical stage" and that includes in-person lineups (though it doesn't apply for photo lineups). If your lawyer isn't present during a physical lineup, that evidence likely shouldn't be admitted in court.

That same protection doesn't apply to other forms of evidence gathering, such blood, DNA, or handwriting samples. Lineups have their own special challenges.

Potential Concerns

One of the issues is intentional bias by police. If a witness says the crime was done by an African-American and the suspect is the only person of that race in the lineup, that's a good indication the process is biased.

That's an extreme example, but there are other ways errors can be made.

Another potential problem is influencing the witness, either intentionally or unintentionally. Questions that point to one or another person in the lineup can also introduce bias.

Having a lawyer present means the defendant has someone to keep an eye out for both intentional and unintentional errors in the process.

Since you're entitled to an attorney, that means a public defender will generally be provided if you can't afford the costs. But if the court determines you can get your own lawyer, make sure you get a good one.

The process of being in an in-person lineup may still be pretty intimidating, no matter what you do. But at least with your lawyer in the room, there's someone on your side.

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