California Laws and Procedures for Police Lineups

April 27, 2023 by Anastasiia Ponomarova in California  Criminal Defense  
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California Police Lineup Laws

Considering how frequently police lineups are portrayed in movies about criminal investigations, many people have a basic understanding of what they’re like. A police lineup is a standard legal procedure where a defendant is identified from a group of five or six people who resemble the physical description of the alleged wrongdoer given by the witness. The thorough law enforcement procedure known as eyewitness identification, which includes police lineups, is widely accepted.

The person who saw the crime committed is typically positioned behind a mirror during a police lineup so that only one direction can be seen. This vantage point will allow you to see the lineup of individuals who closely resemble the offender. Authorities will ask each person in the lineup to dress consistent with how the suspect was seen dressing at the time of the criminal offense when conducting a police lineup.

Individuals are typically recognized through a lineup after formal criminal charges are filed but before a trial has been convened. In addition, the investigators may occasionally ask people in the lineup to repeat a phrase that was possibly spoken during the commission of the crime. The eyewitness to the crime will then inform the law enforcement officers who are also present at the designated location of the identity of the person they observed during the lineup, should they notice the presence of a potential suspect.

Lineup Options Before Trial

In California, the police have various options for setting up a lineup before a trial. Including:

Live lineups

A “live lineup” is the standard method for witnesses to name the suspect before a trial. This indicates that the witness has firsthand knowledge of potential suspects, including those who resemble the suspect.

Lineups for photos

Instead of making people wait in line for identification, the police may show pictures. The witness is given a photo lineup with images of the suspect and a few other people to choose from.

A collection of six photos known as a “six-pack lineup” is frequently used for identification.

Photo lineups are typically used when:

  • They can’t conduct a live lineup to identify the person who may have committed the wrong because they haven’t yet been apprehended.
  • The suspect looked different after committing the crime, so the police wanted to show the witness an old photo.


“show up” refers to presenting just one suspect to a witness. “Lineup” differs because it exposes the witness to several potential suspects. And the witness is required to attest to the identity of the offender. If there isn’t a compelling reason to use a showup, police, and prosecutors should use lineups instead because they are more reliable.

Penal Code Section 859.7

California now has new ways to identify criminal suspects in photos and person, called Photo Lineups and Live Lineups, with the help of Penal Code Section 859.7.

The law in California provides suspects with extra rights during lineup procedures that make them feel more secure. This is beyond what has been previously stated in legal cases.

New rules for police lineups in California – law code PC 859.7

  • The California Senate is making new rules for how people identify suspects in police lineups.
  • Before looking at the lineup, the witness needs to describe the person they saw.
  • The fillers used in a lineup should match the descriptions given by the eyewitness beforehand.
  • Multiple people who saw the event must identify the suspects separately in a lineup.
  • The person who shows the lineup can’t know who the suspect is.
  • The person who saw what happened needs to know that the person they are looking for might not be one of the people shown in the lineup.
  • The investigation is ongoing because the eyewitness needs to hear and say who they saw, but they still haven’t said who it is.
  • There should be only one person who is suspected in each lineup.
  • The police officer shouldn’t say anything that might make the suspect act a certain way.
  • The police officer cannot approve the eyewitness’s recognition.
  • The person who saw what happened should quickly tell others if they are sure they know who did it.
  • This law says that police can use recordings when showing a lineup to help solve a case.

California PC 859.7(11) lets criminal defense lawyers argue against an unfair lineup. This code has an additional part to it.”A video and sound recording will be created while identifying the suspects.”

Someone highly-trained could monitor the procedure and record any deviation by law enforcement.

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