Photo Lineups & Show-Ups

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This directive is for internal use only and does not enlarge an employee’s civil liability in any way. The directive should not be construed as creating a higher duty of care, in an evidentiary sense, with respect to third party civil claims against employees. Violations of this directive, if proven, can only form the basis of a complaint by the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office for non-judicial administrative action in accordance with the rules and laws governing employee discipline.
DIRECTIVE TYPE: Policy SUBJECT: Photo Lineups and Show-Ups NUMBER: OPER-334.00
APPROVED BY: Sheriff Ken Christesen EFFECTIVE DATE: 10/2/2016
NMLEA STANDARDS: Not Applicable LAST MODIFIED: 8/24/2016 LAST REVIEW: 8/24/2016


The purpose of this policy is to establish written guidelines governing photo lineups. The procedures in this policy utilize best practices developed through scientific research by the National Institute of Justice and the highest possible standards for eyewitness identification.


To assist in identifying the guilty and protecting the innocent, it is the policy of the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office that a photo lineup be administered using the highest possible standards. The use of these guidelines should in no way imply that identifications made without these procedures are inadmissible or otherwise in error.


The following definitions shall apply for the purposes of this policy:

  • Confidence Statement – A statement in the victim or witness’s own words, articulating their level of confidence in the identification, taken at the time the identification is made.

  • Double Blind Administration – Neither the person administering the photo lineup nor the witness knows the identity of the suspect.

  • Eyewitness – Also referred to as a witness in this policy, is a person who being present, personally sees a suspect and can testify as to what he or she has seen.

  • Photographic Lineup – Also known as a photo lineup, is an identification procedure in which an array of photographs, including a photograph of the suspect and additional photographs of non-suspects, are displayed to an eyewitness for the purpose of determining whether the eyewitness identifies the photo of the suspect as the offender.

  • Sequential Lineup – When photographs are shown to a victim or witness one at a time, with an independent decision on each, before the next photo is shown.

  • Show-Up – The presentation of a suspect to an eyewitness soon after a crime occurs to determine if the eyewitness identifies the suspect as the offender.

  • Single Blind Administration – The person administering the photo lineup knows the identity of the suspect but the eyewitness does not.


Valid eyewitness identifications can prove crucial to solving crimes and convicting criminals. Equally important as accurate criminal identification is the prevention of false identifications. When improperly administered, identification methods such as photo lineups and show-ups can lead towards the misidentification of suspects. Use of the procedures detailed in this policy will help avoid such misidentifications.

To ensure the consistency of photo lineup administrations, the Sheriff’s Office has developed an eyewitness identification packet that contains all of the necessary procedures, instructions, and forms to be used by deputies. A copy of this packet has been included as an attachment to this policy.


To avoid undue suggestiveness, the primary method photo lineups are administered by the Sheriff’s Office is the sequential, double blind procedure.


When the person administering a photo lineup knows the identity of a suspect, he or she may inadvertently, through verbal or nonverbal cues, give indications to a witness as to who the suspect is. This can be avoided when the person showing the photographs does not know which photograph is the suspect. This is known as a double blind administration. Furthermore, this method requires a notification to the witness that the person administering the lineup does not know which photo is the suspect, ultimately aiding in the avoidance of a witness seeking or inferring cues from the administrator’s behavior.

While the double blind method is preferred, the Sheriff’s Office understands that instances may arise where this is not possible. Under these circumstances, a professional and non-suggestive single blind administration is acceptable.


In a traditional six-pack photo array, witnesses view all photographs at the same time. Unfortunately, comparison shopping may occur as witnesses compare one photo with another to determine which photo most resembles the offender. The result is a higher rate of false identifications in a photo lineup when the offender is not present.

Superior in accuracy to the traditional six-pack, a sequential photo lineup is administered by showing an eyewitness one photo after another. This encourages an eyewitness to compare individual photos to their memory of the offender rather than to other photos.


Prior to a photo lineup, a deputy should obtain, in the witness’s own words, as complete a description as possible of the suspect and the conditions in which the eyewitness observed the suspect. This description will be utilized as the basis for selecting non-suspects photos for the lineup.

This statement shall attempt to include the following information:

  • Description of the suspect to include facial structure, weight, build, skin tone, scars, marks, tattoos, etc.;
  • Location where the offense took place;
  • Amount of time the suspect was observed;
  • Distance between the witness and the suspect;
  • Obstructions while observing the suspect;
  • Lighting conditions;
  • Weather conditions;
  • Impairments (does the eyewitness wear glasses or contact lenses and were they wearing them at the time they observed the incident);
  • The degree of attention when witnessed;
  • Was the eyewitness under the influence of alcohol? If so, how much; and
  • Had the eyewitness taken any kind of drugs that day? If so, what kind.

The person administering the photo lineup shall note whether the eyewitness was wearing glasses or ask if wearing contact lenses at the time of the photo lineup procedure. If so, information regarding the need for corrective lenses should be obtained, e.g. nearsightedness, farsightedness, etc.


Normally, the Sheriff’s Office crime analyst or a detention center supervisor will create the photo lineup. Regardless of who created the lineup, and prior to administration, the photographs chosen will be reviewed and approved by a Sheriff’s Office supervisor. Supervisors will compare the photographs with the witness’s description and ensure that all photographs utilized are compliant with the provisions of this policy.

Photograph requirements are as follows:

  • All photographs utilized will be unaltered.
  • The photograph of the suspect should resemble the suspect’s appearance, or as close as possible, at the time of the offense based on information obtained and the availability of matching contemporary photos.
  • Five non-suspect photos shall be included in the photo lineup, in addition to the suspect, for a total of six photos.
  • There shall be nothing on the photographs themselves or the background context that would make any of them stand out.
  • Photographs of non-suspects should match, as close as reasonably possible, the description provided by the eyewitness (facial structure, weight, build, skin tone, scars, marks, tattoos, etc.) so that the suspect does not unduly stand out.
  • Avoid using photos of non-suspects who so closely resemble the suspect that it would be difficult to distinguish the suspect from a non-suspect.
  • The identity of non-suspects shall be known but not provided to the witness or the administrator (if a double blind administration).
  • No information regarding prior arrests shall be visible on the photos, or made known to the eyewitness.
  • Arrange the six photographs in a random order.
  • Number each photograph differently and refer to it by that number.
  • If multiple copies of the same lineup are utilized for multiple eyewitnesses, each packet should be ordered and numbered differently.

Once the suspect and non-suspect photographs have been chosen, a master copy of the photographs, to include the name of each person under the photograph, should be created and maintained. When a double blind administration is conducted, this master copy must be kept away from the administrator and every eyewitness.


Once the photographs for the lineup have been obtained and randomly ordered, neutral and unaltered instructions will be presented to the eyewitness, without other eyewitnesses present, that:

  • It is just as important to eliminate innocent persons from suspicion as it is to identify any guilty person(s).
  • The suspect may or may not be in the photo lineup.
  • He or she should identify the person who committed the crime and not feel compelled to make an identification.
  • The investigation will continue whether or not an identification is made.
  • The suspect’s appearance in the photo may have changed since the incident.
  • The person giving the test does not know who the suspect is (if a double blind administration).
  • Individual photos will be viewed one at a time.
  • The photos are in random order.
  • He or she has as much time as needed in making a decision about each photo before moving to the next one.
  • An identification is not necessary on the first viewing of the photo lineup.
  • If an identification is made, he or she will be asked for a confidence statement in their identification.
  • All photos will be presented, even if an identification is made.
  • If he or she wishes to view the photographs again, they may do so, but must view all photographs and in the same order.
  • Due to the ongoing investigation, he or she should not discuss the identification procedures or results with anyone else.

Once the instructions have been given, it should be determined if the witness has any questions. After all questions have been answered, verbal or written acknowledgment indicating he or she understands the instructions must be obtained.

Each photograph will be presented to the witness one at a time, and in the previously determined order. Each photo shown must be removed prior to presenting the next one.

When possible, the photo lineup should be video or audio recorded. This will help avoid later disagreements about what happened and prove the validity of the photo lineup.


If an identification is made, a confidence statement should immediately be taken prior to displaying the remainder of the photographs. This statement should be in the witness’s own words and relay their level of confidence in the identification. The witness should not be asked for a numerical rating of their confidence level. After obtaining the confidence statement, the witness must sign and date both the confidence statement and the photograph chosen. No information indicating whether or not the identification made was the actual suspect will be given to the witness.

If an identification is made prior to showing all of the photographs, the person administering the lineup must show the remainder of the photos. If, after completing all six photographs, the witness wants to see a particular photo again, all the photos need to be shown.


Deputies must preserve the outcome of the photo lineup by documenting any results in an incident report. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Date and time of the photo lineup;
  • Names of all persons present at the photo lineup to include the administrator;
  • Sources of all photographs used; and
  • Whether an identification is made or not, including if an identification of a non-suspect is made.

The original photo lineup packet, to include, the photographs utilized for the lineup and the master copy, will be placed into evidence. Photocopies may be made and maintained in the case file.


If multiple eyewitnesses exist, deputies should take precautions to prevent witness contamination or influence to occur. In order to facilitate this, deputies must:

  • Give all instructions to witnesses separately.
  • Each witness shall view the photo lineup separately.
  • A separate copy of the same photographs should be used for each witness.
  • The suspect shall be placed in a different position in the photo lineup and the packet numbered differently for each witness.
  • Witnesses shall not be permitted to communicate with one another until all identification procedures have been completed.


In the event that multiple suspects exist, a separate photo lineup will be administered for each suspect. Photo lineups shall include only one suspect and each administration must follow the protocol set forth in this policy.


When a witness does not identify someone in the lineup, another suspect may develop. If a second photo lineup is utilized, deputies should follow the same procedures. Non-suspect photos used in a subsequent lineup should be different from those used in the first lineup.


Show-ups should be used only when the immediate display of a suspect to an eyewitness is absolutely necessary and high justification or exigency for using a show-up instead of a photo lineup exists.


  • Show-ups, by their nature, are highly suggestive and will carry less weight than a photo lineup.
  • Show-ups will be more scrutinized by the courts.


  • May assist in the release of an innocent person who has been detained.
  • If an innocent person is released, it can help deputies pursue other leads.
  • It may result in the early apprehension of the primary suspect.

Show-ups should not be used when independent probable cause exists to arrest a suspect. In these cases, a post-arrest photo line-up is more useful.


Many of the same principles noted in the photo lineup procedure apply to a show-up. Prior to a show-up, a statement should be taken to include a detailed description of the suspect.

The witness should be taken to the suspect’s location rather than bringing the suspect to the witness. The location should be a neutral, non-law enforcement area. Show-ups should not be conducted at the scene of a crime.

Show-ups shall not be conducted when the suspect is in a holding cell or in jail clothing. When practical, remove handcuffs from the suspect.

Measures should be taken by investigators and the administrator at the show-up to reduce potentially damaging assumptions that might be made by the witness. This would include refraining from suggesting, through statements or non-verbal conduct, that the suspect is or may be the suspect of the crime. Suspects in a show-up shall not be required to put on clothing worn by the suspect, speak words, or perform other actions associated with the suspect.

Show-ups shall not be conducted with more than one witness present at a time. A separate show-up will be required if there is more than one suspect.

When a show-up is conducted, regardless of the results, it should be documented. A photograph of the suspect at the time and place of the show-up should be taken. When practical, the show-up procedure should be audio or video recorded.

After a show-up, a confidence statement shall be taken from the eyewitness. When a positive identification leads to an arrest, any additional eyewitnesses shall be given a photo lineup.


  1. Attachment A – Eyewitness Identification Packet
  2. National Institute of Justice