The classic image of the identity parade could soon be out of date.
A United States study has revealed that the line-up of potential criminals makes victims more likely to pick the wrong person than if they see the suspects one by one.
According to the survey, the likelihood that witnesses will make mistakes is further reduced if the person showing them has no knowledge of the case. The revelation could bring an end to one of the most familiar images of police television drama.
The research suggests showing suspects simultaneously leads to wrong identification 18 per cent of the time. The mistake rate fell to 12 per cent in the so-called "double-blind sequential" line-ups. The double-blind element is said to be important because if the person showing the suspects knows who it is, they may inadvertently give cues to the witness. The study used witnesses in real cases.
"Now we have proof from the field that witnesses who view double-blind sequential line-ups are just as likely to pick the suspect, and perhaps more importantly, less likely to make a misidentification," said research leader Dr Gary Wells of Iowa State University. "What we want the witness to do is don't decide who looks most like the perpetrator, but decide whether the perpetrator is there or not."