Cracked Magazine versus First Circuit Judge Stahl
The Cracked article: This week long-running humor periodical (traditionally a magazine, now on the net) Cracked ran an article critical of certain aspects of the justice system in the United States. One of the criticisms was directed at police lineup. Quoth Cracked:
And [police lineups are] an even bigger problem when the officer standing there with the witness is the one who’s working the case — the officer is going to, consciously or unconsciously, subtly do everything he or she can to make that little old lady pick the guy the cops think did it (scientific experiments always have to control for this, otherwise the results are considered invalid).
There is an easy fix — it’s called a sequential lineup. The witness sees photos of people one at a time instead of all at once. The trick is not to tell the witnesses how many photos there are in total, and to only allow them to go through the pictures once. That’s all there is to it — it prevents witnesses from simply picking someone out because they’re the best option in the bunch, it encourages them to keep looking until they see one who actually fits their memory, and it eliminates the chance for an officer to say things like “Now, did you look closely at No. 2? Look at him again, with his squinty, purse-stealing eyes …”
and for the opposing viewpoint:
Case: ROBINSON v. COOK, No. 12-1722 (First Circuit, January 23, 2013, authored by Stahl, J.)
Decision: The opinion decides that a lineup for cars in a police parking lot is acceptable to establish probable cause (no word on how many other cars in the lot matched the description that had been previously provided by the witness). Perhaps even more surprisingly, Judge Stahl’s opinion blesses the “show up” procedure that police used in this case. In a “show up,” the witness is shown only a single person (instead of a lineup) and asked if that one person is the perpetrator of the crime. This is generally considered even more suggestive than the lineup procedure attacked in the Cracked article, but it was good enough for Judge Stahl and the First Circuit panel that decided Robinson v. Cook.
Did the Robinsons do the crime?: I will end this entry with a quote from Judge Stahl regarding whether the Robinsons really were guilty of the attack for which they were arrested and charged (and allegedly beaten up by police):
Precisely what transpired on Wilmarth Street on July 12, 2007 may never be established. Certainly, if Robert and Mario’s account is accurate, their dudgeon at being arrested and haled into court is understandable. But on the facts disclosed by this record — even when viewed in the light most favorable to the Robinsons. . . . — the defendants acted lawfully. Accordingly, we [dismiss the civil claims against the policemen involved in the arrest].