Massachusetts Criminal Attorney, Kevin J. Mahoney, Explains “Photo Array” Identification
Most people are familiar with a police “lineup.” A “photo array” is another method police use to obtain a witness identification of a suspect. It works like this: Detectives have a witness (or victim) come to the police station, where they present the witness with a set (an “array”) of 6-9 photographs. The detective will then ask the witness if he can identify the alleged perpetrator from those photographs.
As a Massachusetts criminal attorney, I know from experience that this type of identification procedure is susceptible to manipulation and is less trustworthy even than a line-up. Here is a brief overview of some of the issues that may render photo array identifications unreliable:
- The photos in an array show only faces. The witness will be unaware of all other identifying characteristics – height, weight, posture, tattoos, clothing or style of dress – of the individuals he is examining.
- The decoys look nothing like the suspect.
- The decoy photos are mug shots, while the “suspect’s” photo is his graduation or wedding photo or any other photo the detective is able to obtain. In this instance, the witness may believe or infer that the detective is playing a twisted version of the children’s game “one of these things is not like the other.” The witness invariably will be drawn to the one photo that “just doesn’t belong.”
- The police show the witness more than one photo array, with the “suspect’s” photo being the only one that appears in every array. Most witnesses will note the repetition, consciously or subconsciously, and conclude that the police must have information on this person linking him to the alleged crime.
- As with a lineup, the witness likely has an expectation that the perpetrator’s photo is somewhere in the array and may feel pressured to identify someone.
To challenge a photo array identification, a criminal defense lawyer should file a motion to suppress. As is often true of any evidentiary hearing, the cross-examination skills of the defense lawyer may prove to be the difference between a dismissal of the charges and a conviction.
Contact Massachusetts Criminal Attorney, Kevin J. Mahoney
If you are facing criminal charges based on eyewitness identification, contact an experienced Massachusetts criminal attorney to help protect your rights. Call us at 617-492-0055, to schedule a time to meet with Attorney Mahoney to discuss your case.
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