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Many years ago I was walking down the street when several patrol cars quickly pulled up, police jumped out and sternly stated, "Stop. Can I see some ID?" (with hands on guns/tasers ready for a chase).

Naturally I stopped and showed ID. No problem.

Once the officers saw I was cooperative and not trying to be difficult, they lowered their defenses and became much more cordial.

I learned that I "matched the description" of someone who apparently had just moments before committed an armed robbery a few blocks away. Okay, so I get why I was stopped. Again, no problem. They took my information and let me go on my way.

A few days later, two officers knocked on my door and asked if I would "come down to the station to be part of a photo line-up." Note that I have no criminal record and there is most likely nothing "on file" that would have been sufficient for the police to use.

Due to my circumstances - just got off work, had a job that left me smelling of gas, tar, and asphalt and very, very greasy and grimy and I hadn't had a chance to clean up yet - I politely turned down their request. This wasn't a problem. The officers went on their way.

Much later I read somewhere that one should never pose for a photo line up because if the "witness" makes a mistake you could be in a whole lot of trouble quickly with little or no cause for it.

Is it ever a good idea to pose for a photo line up if you haven't been charged with anything?

  • There must either be some grant of immunity, or else participants in line-ups aren't volunteers (i.e., everyone is there because there is "probable cause" to compel them to be). I'd love to know which is the case. – feetwet Jan 15 '16 at 22:49
  • @feetwet but I wonder is simply "matching a description" actually probable cause??? Given any description, surely there are hundred or thousands of individuals in any city/town that roughly match it. I mean I get there's a reason for the request. But as an innocent citizen, I wonder why anyone would actually volunteer in the first place. I'd imagine immunity is not something which would be ever discussed on the off chance you are guilty of the crime. – Scott Jan 16 '16 at 0:42
  • Also.. I'm aware that the police knocking on my door may have simply been due diligence to ensure I provided the proper information and they weren't really seeking my help in a photo line up. – Scott Jan 16 '16 at 0:44
  • To clarify: were you asked to be one of the "fillers" to viewed by a witness along with the real suspect, or would you have been the "real" suspect? I'm not aware of the police using a line-up to select the best fit from a pool of suspects – DJohnM Jan 16 '16 at 23:09
  • Well, I don't know if I was an actual suspect or not. I mean, I was in the area at the time and did match some description (which was never really detailed to me). Nothing more ever came of this situation other than what I've posted here. Only the police would know if I was an actual suspect. – Scott Jan 16 '16 at 23:55
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In theory, if the police have one suspect and pick up five more random strangers for a lineup, then it is not impossible that the suspect is totally innocent and one of the five random strangers is in fact the perpetrator. And that random stranger might be identified which eventually would lead to a conviction.

And again in theory, if the police have one suspect and pick up five more random strangers for a lineup, then it is not impossible that the suspect is totally innocent and one of the five random strangers looks by coincidence very much like the perpetrator. And that random stranger might be identified which eventually would lead to a conviction of an innocent person. And that person might be you.

I would probably not volunteer at all, and definitely not volunteer unless I had a cast iron alibi.

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