When one of your preliminary
investigations takes you to the point
where the identification of a suspect(s) is
warranted through a photo line-up, you
can simply seek approval from your
supervisor.  Once you receive approval,
make certain you're throughly familiar
with your department's guidelines
regarding the line-up's preparation,
presentation, evidence submission, and
reporting requirements.

A photo line-up should never consist of
fewer than six (6) photographs.  The
photos must be the same size and similar
in appearance.  You can't have five color
photo fill-ins, and one black and white
photo of the suspect.  I know, that's
obvious, but you get what I mean.

The people in the photos must all be
similar in appearance, e.g. sex, race, age
and general physical appearance.  If the
suspect has a mustache, then all the
subjects must have a mustache.  The
same goes for hair color and style, etc.  
If you have say two suspects in the same
crime, you
cannot put both suspects in
the same photo line-up.  The five fill-in
photos must be of people who, to your
knowledge, have no involvement in the
crime being investigated.

Technology is a wonderful thing.  When I
began doing photo line-ups, I had to
shuffle through piles of black and white
mug shots to find photos for my
line-ups.  Today, you'll probably have
access to digitally stored photos with
software allowing you to enter the
suspect's physical parameters.  If you
have a large photo source, you'll be
amazed how similar the photos will be.  
Sometimes, you'll think the similarities
are too close, but that's good.  The
better your photo line-up appears, the
stronger any identification made from it
will be.

Let's make it more difficult.  Your suspect
has a tear drop tattoo beneath his left
eye.  Even with a large photo source,
you're not likely to find six photos with all
the required similarities including that
tattoo.  Or...let's say the only photo you
have of the suspect was taken, before he
acquired the tattoo.

Your victim or witness had never
previously seen or known the suspect
prior to the crime, so you know the
victim/witness is going to expect to see
pictures with the tattoo.  Whether the
tattoo is present or not, you could use
some means to mark or cover the exact
spot on the faces of all the photos where
the tattoo is located.  As long as all the
alterations are exactly the same, there
shouldn't be a problem.

However, before you undertake any such
alterations of the photos, you should
obtain approval from a prosecutor which
is usually on call for such direction.  I'll
tell you right now...it all depends on the
individual prosecutor.  Just like judges,
one might not have any problem at all
with your creativity while another may
not agree.

Okay...you're ready to show the photo
line-up.  Never show a line-up to more
than one victim/witness at the same
time.  Never coach the victim/witness in
any way.  Simply state that the suspect
may, or may not, be in the photos you're
about to show.  You should always have
another officer present to witness the

Here's some of the reactions you'll see.  
One victim may immediately point to the
suspect and shout, "That's the [expletive
deleted]."  Another may point to the
suspect and say, "That looks like him."  
Still, another may not be able to make
any identification at all.

When a victim/witness does identify your
suspect, you must ask, "Are you
certain?"  Here's where it's going to
range from "absolutely" to "I'm pretty
sure" or "I'm almost positive."  Obviously,
"absolutely" is what you want to hear.  
While the positive identification is the
best outcome, your report will state
exactly the circumstances and the result
of line-up viewing.

Remember...a photo line-up which is
viewed, no matter the result of the
viewing, becomes exculpatory evidence.  
You must report the viewing and its
results, and the photo line-up must be
submitted to your evidence control unit.

At this point, you might be thinking,
"That's sounds like a lot of work." It
really isn't.  After you do a couple, you'll
have no problem at all.  However, don't
go to the trouble unless you're sure of a
few things.  Before you put a suspect
into a photo line-up, you should be
personally convinced your suspect is, in
fact, the suspect who committed the
crime. Your certainty should be based
upon other evidence you've developed.  
If your existing evidence already reaches
the level of probable cause, the photo
identification will only enhance that
probable cause.  If you need the photo
ID to establish probable cause, just make
certain your suspect was not in jail at the
time of the crime...it's happened.
Remember...a positive identification from
a photo line-up is good evidence, but it's
only one of many building blocks in your
investigation.  It's an important building
block...but only one.

I know you've seen victims and witnesses
going through the "mug books" on the
television police shows.  Today, such
viewing can be done on a computer
screen.  One can argue that any
identification made is good, because the
viewer is choosing the suspect from a
large number of photographs.  However,
the viewer could also select the first
photo which is closely similar to the
suspect as in your photo line-up fill-ins.  
If the viewer actually knows the suspect
from previous up close association, this
method would be acceptable; otherwise,
it should be reserved as a method of last

The Live Line-Up

The live line-up is definitely the best form
of identification, but don't expect to see
too many of those.  I only did one during
my career, and what a production that
was.  You still need to meet all the
requirements as in the photo line-up, and
it's not an easy thing to do.  The simple
truth is -- if your case rests solely on
eyewitness identification, the live line-up
won't carry anymore weight than the
photo line-up.

Just remember...when you do a photo
line-up, you're messing with somebody's
life, and you want to be as right as you
can be.
Here's an example where you're really
starting cold for a photo line-up:

You take a report of a armed robbery
from a victim who gives you a very
detailed description of the suspect.  The
victim even provides a location where
she's previously seen the suspect

From the description and the loitering
location, you immediately know who the
victim is probably describing.  You know
the suspect from a previous arrest for a
similar robbery.  While this circumstance
is not probable cause for you to hunt
down the suspect and arrest him, it
certainly is worth the effort to do a photo

If the victim makes a positive ID on the
photo line-up, that ID along with your
circumstantial knowledge of the suspect
establishes probable cause for you to
obtain an arrest warrant.  If you move
fast enough, you could even obtain a
search and seizure warrant as well in an
effort to recover the suspect's weapon
and any property taken from the victim.  
"Technology is a wonderful thing.  
When I began doing photo line-ups,
I had to shuffle through piles of black
and white mug shots to find photos
for my line-ups." ~ Barry M. Baker
When I started my police career, my
department didn't want patrol officers to
take an investigation to the stage of
identifying a suspect(s) through the
means of a photo line-up.  That part was
reserved for detectives or officers
assigned to special investigative units.  If
your department has a similar policy, it's
not designed to impede your training or
experience in any way.  It's just a matter
of maintaining the integrity of an
investigation.  However, there are always
Copyright © 2018  Barry M. Baker