The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Neil v. Biggers (1972) established the foundations for what would become known as the totality of circumstances test; a legal framework applied to courts across the nation in determining whether an identification procedure was conducted fairly. The rule states that any evidence derived from an identification should be evaluated by considering all circumstances leading up to and including the identification, with particular attention given to factors such as how suggestive or non-suggestive a lineup is and how much time has passed between a crime occurring and drawing a suspect’s picture or creating a physical lineup (Roth, 2017). This essay will explore what those individual ‘circumstances’ are that must be considered when evaluating fairness of an identification procedure, and why they are necessary for determining if it is fair.
Time Between Crime & Identification Procedure: One of the major considerations for assessing fairness of an ID procedure is the amount of time between when a crime was committed, and when someone was identified in relation to it. Memory can fade over time which can compromise accuracy in making identifications – more so than if someone were identified shortly after committing some sort of offence (Kassin et al., 2010). Not enough research exists on exactly how long this period should last before conducting an identification process, but generally speaking those who commit offences tend to be better recognized shortly after their actions rather than weeks or months later (Roth et al., 2017). Thus, if there is too much time between when an event occurred and when someone made an identification then this could call into question its reliability/accuracy – thus potentially also calling into question its overall fairness.