By: Adam L. Bantner, II
Identification of a suspect as the person who committed the crime by a victim of that crime or witness to that crime is some of the most powerful evidence that the State can present when seeking a conviction. However, misidentification of a suspect is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions. As such, Florida law imposes several requirements upon law enforcement officers when asking a witness/victim to identify the person who committed the crime through a lineup procedure.
Fla. Stat. 92.70
In 2017, the Florida legislature passed Fla. Stat. 92.70 in hopes of minimizing misidentifications. It applies to both live lineups and photo lineups. Because a suggestion, whether intentional or not, by the administrator as to the “correct” person is the primary evil to be avoided, the law does its best to ensure that the person administering the lineup is a neutral without knowledge of the target suspect in the lineup.
Specifically, the statute requires:
- An independent administrator or other neutral procedure,
- Instructions to the witness, and
- A signed acknowledgment by the witness.
Independent Administrator and Alternative Procedures
Again, the goal of the law is to prevent improper suggestion by the administrator to the person making the identification as to whom to select. Therefore, the law recognizes several approved procedures while also giving validity to any procedure that utilizes a neutral administrator and which is not otherwise impermissibly suggestive. The statute allows:
- The lineup must be conducted by an independent administrator. However, in lieu of using an independent administrator, a law enforcement agency may conduct a photo lineup eyewitness identification procedure using an alternative method specified in subparagraph 1., subparagraph 2., or subparagraph 3. Any alternative method must be carefully structured to achieve neutral administration and to prevent the lineup administrator from knowing which photograph is being presented to the eyewitness during the identification procedure. Alternative methods may include any of the following:
- An automated computer program that can automatically administer the photo lineup directly to an eyewitness and prevent the lineup administrator from seeing which photograph the eyewitness is viewing until after the procedure is completed.
- A procedure in which photographs are placed in folders, randomly numbered, and shuffled and then presented to an eyewitness such that the lineup administrator cannot see or track which photograph is being presented to the eyewitness until after the procedure is completed.
- Any other procedure that achieves neutral administration and prevents the lineup administrator from knowing which photograph is being presented to the eyewitness during the identification procedure.
Instructions to the Witness
Furthermore, the law requires that the witness be given certain instructions to further minimize the chances of a misidentification. Essentially, it tries to achieve this by informing the witness that it’s okay to not select a suspect. The required disclosure states:
- The perpetrator might or might not be in the lineup
- The lineup administrator does not know the suspect’s identity
- The eyewitness should not feel compelled to make an identification
- It is as important to exclude innocent persons as it is to identify the perpetrator
- The investigation will continue with or without an identification.
Acknowledgment by Witness
Lastly, Fla. Stat. 92.70 requires the witness to sign an acknowledgment that
he or she received a copy of the lineup instructions. If the eyewitness refuses to sign a document acknowledging receipt of the instructions, the lineup administrator must document the refusal of the eyewitness to sign a document acknowledging receipt of the instructions, and the lineup administrator must sign the acknowledgment document himself or herself.
What if the Procedures Weren’t Followed?
This is where having a board certified criminal trial law attorney comes in handy. If the procedures weren’t followed, your criminal defense attorney should file a Motion to Suppress the identification. Should the identification be suppressed, the State will be unable to have the witness identify the suspect in court unless there is another independent basis for the identification.
If you’ve been arrested or otherwise charged with a crime, call The Bantner Firm today for your free consultation! 813.397.3965. You want Your Community Lawyer on your side!