Kane prosecutor pleased with new suspect lineup law

  • Joe McMahon

    Joe McMahon

Updated 12/9/2014 4:48 PM

Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon says he's pleased with a new law going into effect Jan. 1 setting forth new requirements for police to handle suspect lineups -- whether it's a sequential or simultaneous photo lineup or an in-person lineup like on movies and TV.

McMahon said requirements to record the lineups and have a neutral person conduct the lineup will help ensure authorities arrest the correct person, eliminate unintentional cognitive bias, and preserve the rights of defendants.


"The goal is to get it right. No victim wants to identify the wrong offender. It also is to protect the rights of the defendant," McMahon said Tuesday during his monthly media briefing. "I think it's a good law."

McMahon recently was tabbed to lead a statewide committee to evaluate and recommend best practices for police and prosecutors.

In addition to ethics and evidence sharing, police lineups was an area the committee was exploring. The new state law was independent of the committee's efforts.

Under the new law, McMahon said, departments are required to have an independent administrator conduct a simultaneous lineup where a victim or witness is shown six photographs at once or a sequential lineup where pictures are shown one by one. Photo lineups are the norm in Kane County.

If an independent administrator is not available -- for example, the entire police force of a small department could be investigating a major crime -- authorities can use a computer program to conduct the lineup.

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If neither is available, police must prepare a report on why no independent administrator was used. Also, McMahon said, authorities must record the victim or witness identifying people in the lineup, and the recording can be examined by a judge and must be shared with the defense attorney in the case.

If there are multiple witnesses, they must be kept separate before the lineup, and pictures must be put in a different order, McMahon said.

The main thing is to eliminate "cognitive bias" of the lineup administrator -- unintentional cues or body language that can skew the result.

"Cognitive bias is not something the administrator is doing intentionally," McMahon said. "It certainly has been an issue in wrongful convictions nationally, not just in Illinois. This is a ripe area for us in law enforcement to look at and challenge us to do better."

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