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Why is a lineup deemed a "critical stage" in criminal law process?

Police dramas are unquestionably an enduring staple in the world of television and films, and most Americans have certainly seen an impressive number of offerings based on precinct life and activities over the years.

Those are fictional, of course, and many of them take considerable license in portraying "reality" in the criminal justice realm.

At the same time, though, attempts are routinely made to cast "day in the life" shows in an essentially accurate way, with inside advisers being on hand to better ensure that cameras track police life and procedures with credible authenticity.

Such shows have progressively favored over the years increasingly unfiltered views of "how things really work" at the police station.

Like criminal lineups, for example.

We would simply ask Missouri readers of our blog at the St. Louis criminal defense firm of Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry how many lineup-focused TV/movie scenes they have watched in their lives.

Scores, certainly. Hundreds, perhaps? Can you readily conjure up tried-and-tested images of suspects standing in a line while a witness looks at them from behind a darkened one-way window as detectives stand alongside and quietly make comments?

It is not hard to see that issues surrounding lineup accuracy and certainty can -- and often do -- arise in such an environment. Truth can prevail, of course, but error can just as easily occur. As one online overview of criminal lineup procedures notes, "even the most confident eyewitness can mistake the identity of the accused."

Lineups mark a key juncture in any criminal law case for a number of compelling reasons, and have thus been designated as a "critical stage" in the justice process. We shall examine why that is the case and what that designation requires in our next blog post.

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Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry

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