Evaluating Lineup Fairness: Variations Across Methods and Measures

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Abstract

Triers of fact sometimes consider lineup fairness when determining the suggestiveness of an identification procedure. Likewise, researchers often consider lineup fairness when comparing results across studies. Despite their importance, lineup fairness measures have received scant empirical attention and researchers inconsistently conduct and report mock-witness tasks and lineup fairness measures. We conducted a large-scale, online experiment (N = 1,010) to examine how lineup fairness measures varied with mock-witness task methodologies as well as to explore the validity and reliability of the measures. In comparison to descriptions compiled from multiple witnesses, when individual descriptions were presented in the mock-witness task, lineup fairness measures indicated a higher number of plausible lineup members but more bias toward the suspect. Target-absent lineups were consistently estimated to be fairer than target-present lineups—which is problematic because it suggests that lineups containing innocent suspects are less likely to be challenged in court than lineups containing guilty suspects. Correlations within lineup size measures and within some lineup bias measures indicated convergent validity and the correlations across the lineup size and lineup bias measures demonstrated discriminant validity. The reliability of lineup fairness measures across different descriptions was low and reliability across different sets of mock witnesses was moderate to high, depending on the measure. Researchers reporting lineup fairness measures should specify the type of description presented, the amount of detail in the description, and whether the mock witnesses viewed target-present and/or -absent lineups.

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