Showups Aren’t Lineups

When I first came to the School of Government, I picked a few small areas of law in which I hoped to develop some expertise. One of those areas was the then-new Eyewitness Identification Reform Act. It was enacted in 2007, effective for crimes committed on or after March 1, 2008. S.L. 2007-421. It’s codified at G.S. 15A-284.50 et seq.

As most readers likely know, the Act prescribes procedures that law enforcement officers must follow when conducting lineups. For example, it requires that at least five fillers be included in each lineup; that the individuals or photographs in a lineup be presented to the witness sequentially rather than simultaneously; that lineups normally be conducted by officers who don’t know the identity of the suspect; and so on.

As I traveled the state talking about the Act to anyone who was willing to listen, one of the questions I received most frequently was whether the law’s provisions applied to show-ups. A show-up, of course, is a procedure “whereby a suspect is shown singularly to a witness or witnesses for the purposes of identification.” State v. Harrison, 169 N.C. App. 257 (2005). They typically take place in the immediate aftermath of a crime, when an officer apprehends a suspect and presents him to the crime victim for confirmation that the officer arrested the right person.

I always said that the Act didn’t apply to show-ups, because by its terms, the it applies only to “photo lineup[s]” and “live lineup[s].” A photo lineup takes place when “an array of photographs is displayed to an eyewitness.” G.S. 15A-284.52(a)(7). A show-up doesn’t involve an “array,” and generally doesn’t involve photographs, so it doesn’t fit there. A live lineup takes place when “a group of people is displayed to an eyewitness.” G.S. 15A-284.52(a)(6). A show-up normally doesn’t involve a “group” of people, so again, it doesn’t fit within the statutory definition.

As the old saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and I was right about show-ups. The court of appeals recently decided State v. Rawls, in which it held that show-ups are not covered by the Act, more or less for the reasons given above. (The court reasoned in part that “the procedure of a live lineup [as defined in the Act] is inherently inconsistent with the definition of a show[-]up.”) Rawls involved a break-in committed by three people, and all three were apprehended together. So in a sense, the show-up in Rawls did involve a “group” of people, but the court of appeals held that the Act was nonetheless inapplicable.

One final point. Although most show-ups are done live, there are times when an officer will conduct what I think of as a photo show-up. For example, suppose that officer A is investigating drug activity by suspect S. Suppose that officer A asks officer B to make an undercover buy from S. After B makes the buy, A shows B a picture of S and asks, is this the guy from whom you just bought drugs? I think that’s OK, even though A isn’t complying with the provisions of the Act, because it’s a photo show-up. Even though Rawls doesn’t involve a photo show-up, its reasoning appears to apply equally to such procedures.

2 thoughts on “Showups Aren’t Lineups”

  1. Jeff… or anyone,

    I haven’t read Rawls, nor have I fully thought this through, but if that’s the case, why would an officer ever use an “array” of photographs or people? Why not just show a picture of THE suspect and say, “Is this the guy?” Then, I suppose, the Act doesn’t apply and the procedural safeguards are circumvented.

    Again, this is just a gut reaction to this post, but I’m curious what others think.

    The blog is great, by the way. It’s almost eerie how often you post about something relevant to one of my pending cases.

  2. Thanks for the kind words about the blog. As to why police would ever conduct a lineup rather than a show-up, I can think of at least three reasons. First, in some circumstances, show-ups are unconstitutionally suggestive. Second, in some cases, the police may be uncertain about whether they’ve got the right guy and may want the most reliable possible confirmation from the witness. Third, even if the police are sure that they have the right guy, they still need to be ready to convince a jury, which may place more stock in a lineup identification than in a show-up identification.


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