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

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

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 viewing.

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
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 loitering.

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 line-up.

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 exceptions.
Copyright © 2019  Barry M. Baker