Fairness in Eyewitness Identification

Eyewitness identification is a significant step in prosecuting a criminal. The justice system has relied on eyewitness accounts and descriptions of suspects to convict numerous criminals and keep society safe. However, there is a growing concern about the accuracy of eyewitness identification, as some identification cases result in wrongful prosecution. Over the years, psychologists and criminal scientists have researched factors that cause errors during the process leading to wrongful convictions to obtain a better and fair approach to identifying suspects. The studies have enabled psychologists to understand why lineups can result in incorrect convictions, such as issues with human memory and the structural properties of the identifying features. Zarkadi et al. (2009) are among the researchers attempting to find suitable methods of eyewitness identification. In their article, ‘Creating Fair Lineups for Suspects with Distinctive Features,’ the researchers explain the replication and concealment of distinctive features as practical approaches to eyewitness identification using empirical experiments. This essay highlights the researchers’ main points on the effectiveness of using concealment and replication for eyewitness identification.

Using suspect lineups for eyewitness identification is a primary method of pointing out suspect criminals. According to eyewitness descriptions, the procedure involves lining up individuals with distinctive features, and the person befitting all the characteristics described is pointed out as the main suspect. Guidelines for suspect lineup dictate that the police should prevent showcasing distinctive features on the suspect by manipulating them since they make an individual stand out from the rest leading to wrongful conviction. Zarkadi et al. (2009) state that eyewitnesses use relative judgment to point out witnesses, and having a distinctive feature may compromise the witness’ judgment leading to convicting an innocent person (Zarkadi et al. 2009). At the same time, the police cannot question an eyewitness’s decision if the distinctive attribute matches the initial description of the suspect. Although the police manipulate the distinct characteristics to prevent suspects from standing out from the rest, the researchers argue that the control methods lack accuracy and practical guidelines to ensure fair judgment.

The researchers compare the replication and concealment of distinctive features during identification that creates uniformity or disparity and enhances the possibility of pointing to the right person. Concealment involves covering or hiding an area, such as a distinctive feature using a piece of foil or solid material. Replication artificially reproduces a suspect’s distinctive feature and applies it to all suspects in the lineup. All suspects will have the instinctive feature that prevents standing out, leading to wrongful conviction. Using the hybrid-similarity (HS) method by Nosofsky and Zaki, the researchers tested which of the two approaches helps to obtain more information on the suspect and accurate identification. The model creates distinct recognition regardless of the distance and familiarity between faces. Under replication, the model increases differences in familiarity with the distinctive feature between the target and the foil. Under concealment, the model reduces the differences in similarity, making all subjects seem more distinct.

The research team confirmed that replication is the most effective method of correct identification and obtaining more information between the two approaches since eyewitnesses will pay attention to other details when all suspects have the same characteristics. On the other hand, concealment gives the standing-out effect, leading to inattentiveness and quick decision-making based on manipulated memory. The study determined that people can encode information without being aware of the information encoded. Thus, all suspects in a lineup should have the same distinctive features to prevent standing out and enhance fairness.

Generally, cases of convicting innocent people are increasing and need immediate addressing to ensure fairness. Despite ensuring security, prosecuting people wrongly is unfair and has adverse effects on the individual and the family. The justice system should find effective guidelines and practical approaches to eyewitness identification to prevent more cases of mistaken identity. Research findings in this article prove that replication leads to correct identification than concealment and other manipulation methods. Therefore, replication may be the solution to fairness and safety by prosecuting the correct individuals.


Zarkadi, T., Wade, K. A., & Stewart, N. (2009). Creating fair lineups for suspects with distinctive features. Psychological Science, 20(12), 1448–1453.

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LawBirdie. (2023) 'Fairness in Eyewitness Identification'. 3 April.


LawBirdie. 2023. "Fairness in Eyewitness Identification." April 3, 2023. https://lawbirdie.com/fairness-in-eyewitness-identification/.

1. LawBirdie. "Fairness in Eyewitness Identification." April 3, 2023. https://lawbirdie.com/fairness-in-eyewitness-identification/.


LawBirdie. "Fairness in Eyewitness Identification." April 3, 2023. https://lawbirdie.com/fairness-in-eyewitness-identification/.