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Doing Lineups Right

In the movies, a lineup of potential "bad guys" is quite typically protrayed as it is in the movie, "Peppermint". This clip from the movie (1 minute) shows a woman's family being murdered and all three key suspects are shown to the woman in a lineup of 6 men:



There are actually quite a few problems with this approach. Victims are subtely told that the perpetrator is in the lineup and they feel compelled to pick someone out, even if they're not that sure. As pointed out in the Los Angeles Times article (Eyewitness testimony is often unreliable and police and lawmakers know it), there are some scientifically supported ways to conduct lineups that sometimes are not carried out:


  1. Police should use "double-blind" procedures in which the person conducting the lineup or showing the photos doesn't know which person is the leading suspect
  2. Witnesses should be told that the suspect may or may not be among the people in the lineup
  3. Lineups and photo spreads should be videotaped, so that the integrity of the procedures can be examined after the fact.


Class Exercise:

You might want to show the 1-minute video clip above to students (or here's the link to the video on YouTube) and ask them:


  • How realistic is this portrayal of a police lineup?
  • What factors might lead the victim to identify the wrong guy?
  • How would you improve the lineup process so you can eliminate these "false positive" identifications?


Also: your criminal justice MindTap course suggests another procedure to improve lineups: simultaneous vs. sequential lineups.


Here's how to add this video to your MindTap course



Login into MindTap


MindTap is included with Cengage Unlimited.

Frequent Commenter

On the one hand, this is an excellent use of this film to demonstrate these problems and students, whom we know LOVE popular culture, may definitely be more engaged. As I was thinking of ways to incorporate this into my Criminal Investigation course this coming semester and adding this video to MindTap, however, I ran across a rather scathing review of this film that discusses how it promotes racism and often misconstrued gang members and potentially even illegal/undocumented Hispanic immigrant stereotypes. Certainly, everyone has their own opinions, but it provided me a cause to stop and think further about how use of this film, without some additional discussion, could potentially perpetuate those problems. Here is the review article for all to make their own assessments:

Valued Contributor

It is interesting that the focus is less on whether or not someone is or isn't a suspect and more on whether or not their demographics will unfairly bias a potential witness.

The fact that people commit crimes and other people sometimes witness people committing crimes is unavoidable.


The need for the criminal justice system to be fair and unbiased seems at times to focus on the rights of the accused, simply because there is currently no reliable means for determining the truth. Innocent until proven guilty is the general mantra we are all familiar with, and it's often coupled with proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Add to this the 4th amendment right against illegal search and seizure, and the 5th amendment right against self incrimination, and the criminal justice system seems out of balance. 


But in truth, this is the result of a history of the news media's blanket portrayal of biased or unprofessional police work as endemic and widespread; the incarceration of innocent people as a result of inadequate defense; and the general public stereotype of criminals as minority, homeless, or economically distressed. 


So what is the right answer? 


1. Don't buy into the lie. Not all police work is shoddy, not all police officers are corrupt, not all defense attorneys or public defenders are inept, not all who are incarcerated are innocent, not all criminals can be classed by one demographic or another. 


2. Do your own homework. Don't accept at face value the 25 second clip of the police encounter; instead find the 2 or 3 minutes before and the 2 or 3 minutes after. Don't assume guilt or innocence (that's for the courts to decide) instead consider what a reasonable person might conclude given just the facts without the demographic baggage.


3. PATD (Pay Attention To Details). Did the reporter say:

  • "The individual refused to make a statement"
  • "The individual declined to make a statement"
  • "The individual was unable to be reached for comment"

Or was it something else? Reputable media outlets will report in a responsible and unbiased manner, others will actively seek some sort of controversy, whether real or contrived... the New Yorker article is a case 

Eugene Matthews

@Connie_Koski I read the article and it makes a lot of good points. The author makes this point that the movie: "...reflects the current strain of anti-immigrant politics and its paranoid focus on MS-13. It features a diverse cast of actors ... but its virtuous nonwhite characters are all isolated, as if diluted in number and dissolved in the institutions and manners of white Americans. In the terms of “Peppermint,” one Latinx person is a constructive exception; two are huddled, passive and dependent, in an encampment of the homeless; a group of them working together is a menace."


I did a google search for other police lineup scenes but nothing that quite fit the bill here in terms of showing a) a lineup scence in which all the perpetrators are present in the lineup, and b) a victim who immediately identified the perpetrators even though he/she had only seen them briefly. I'll keep looking though.  You're right about the distastefulness of this particular movie.

Frequent Commenter

Hi Michael,


After my initial response, a colleague and I discussed this film further. While I do concur that there are actually a number of problems with it, as I noted previously, we also thought that with the appropriate lead-in, the use of this film could actually be an excellent teaching tool from a variety of perspectives, including discussions on Crime, Media & Film, and/or Race/Ethnicity/Class/Gender & Crime. So, not tossing it to the wayside completely; just thinking it might need some introductory discussion first. 


To the more specific point you are attempting to illustrate (your second paragraph above), I'm not aware of anything either, but now I'm curious so I'll see what I run across. Good discussion! =)