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Live Police Line-Ups In Los Angeles County


If you’ve done criminal defense for a long time like I have – twenty-five years, you’re going to be involved in a live line-up and where they conduct the live line-ups in Los Angeles County is where you would probably think- at the Los Angeles County jail. Most of the people that are going a live line-up have a serious case so they’re trying to block some eyewitness testimony from coming in against them. A lot of those people are in custody so that makes a live line-up pretty easy where basically they take you out of custody, you’re wearing the county blues – or whatever color you’re wearing – the inmates find five other individuals that look like you and they put you in there.

So, you have six people. They bring the witnesses in. They have a room down at the county jail where they¬†conduct all of the live line-ups. I’ve done a bunch of them. They have a little form. They have the witnesses read the form, basically saying, you’re going to try to identify the person involved in your crime. They may or may not be in there. If you see somebody that looks like the person, then you write down, yes that’s definitely the person, for example, or that could be. Sometimes I’ve seen people pick two people and say both these people kind of look like the person. There are all sorts of different comments that witnesses make in these live line-ups. Some of those comments can actually be really helpful to the defense, depending on exactly what is said and what the circumstances are.

Sheriffs are very good at picking inmates that look like each other. Sometimes I play a game myself trying to see if I can identify my own client. I mean, these guys look so much alike. So, it’s not that easy to pick people out of a live line-up. It’s a very effective weapon for a criminal defense attorney. Of course, if the person picks your client out, it’s a real big problem also, because now you have someone being picked out of a live line-up – that’s a very powerful piece of evidence the prosecutors can use against your client. So, you have to let your client know that obviously before you do one of these live line-ups.

I’ve not done live line-ups where I think the person is going to pick my client. For example, if the person was already shown my client like in a show-up, where the police basically grab the client and the client is the only one, and they say is that the person who committed the crime against you and the person identifies him. But wait a minute. They’re going to remember that show-up versus the person actually committing the crime against them. That’s a problem, so a lot of times in those circumstances I’m not going to do a live line-up even though my client is innocent – is saying they’re innocent – and we want to attack the identification, but it’s a decision that has to be made obviously, with experience and evaluating the total circumstances surrounding the case.

As far as how you can use a live line-up in a trial – that’s a great thing. If your client is not identified, especially if they identified somebody else, that just destroys the witness’s credibility, because now you can say, you picked somebody from the jail community who we know was innocent for sure. Number three is innocent. You picked him. You didn’t pick number five which was my client, so how can you tell us that you’re sure of your identification. If we took what you said, we’d be convicting an innocent man. So, yeah, that just destroys the witness. Destroys their credibility and a lot of times destroys the prosecutor’s case.

So, if you have the case where you’re considering doing a live line-up, or you have a family member who has a case and you guys are considering doing a live line-up down at the county jail, we can sit down. We can talk about it. I’ve done a number of them. I know how they work. I know exactly the procedures. I’ve been inside the room. I see how the detectives deal with it. I see how the sheriffs deal with it. So, you have to sit down with a good criminal defense attorney. The client has to sit down with the attorney. You have to be honest with each other, and then you can make a really good and informed decision about whether you want to do a live line-up down at the county jail in Los Angeles, or whether it’s a better strategy to do something that is just as effective to attack the identification witness or witnesses in a criminal case.

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About the Author

Named Top Los Angeles Criminal Attorney by LA Times and named one of the Top 100 criminal defense attorneys in California by the National Trial Lawyers Association. I'm the attorney other lawyers hire to defend them.