Eyewitness Evidence: A Trainer's Manual for Law Enforcement  


Table of Contents

Sample Lesson Plan: Identification



Section IV. Field Identification Procedure (Showup)

A. Conducting Showups

Principle: When circumstances require the prompt display of a single suspect to a witness, challenges to the inherent suggestiveness of the encounter can be minimized through the use of procedural safeguards.

Policy: The investigator should use procedures that avoid unnecessary suggestiveness.

Procedure: When conducting a showup, the investigator should?

  1. Determine and document, prior to the showup, a description of the perpetrator.

  2. Consider transporting the witness to the location of the detained suspect to limit the legal impact of the suspect?s detention.

    BulletThere are likely to be legal restrictions concerning transporting suspects to the scene. Local/jurisdictional laws or policies should be consulted and followed. Other issues that may be involved with bringing the suspect to the scene include potential contamination of the scene or exposure to media or multiple witnesses.
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Discuss with the class the inherent suggestiveness of this procedure.


  1. When multiple witnesses are involved?

    1. Separate witnesses and request that they avoid discussing details of the incident with other witnesses.

      BulletWitnesses should not hear others? accounts because they may be influenced by that information.

    2. If a positive identification is obtained from one witness, consider using other identification procedures (e.g., lineup or photo array) for remaining witnesses.

      BulletBecause showups can be considered inherently suggestive, once an identification is obtained at a showup and probable cause for arrest has been achieved, less suggestive procedures can be used with other witnesses to obtain their identifications.
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  1. Caution the witness that the person he/she is looking at may or may not be the perpetrator.

    BulletThis instruction to the witness can lessen the pressure on the witness to make an identification solely to please the investigator or because the witness feels it is his/her duty to do so. The investigator should assure the witness that the investigation will continue regardless of whether an identification is obtained at the showup. Keep in mind that it is just as important to clear innocent parties; a nonidentification can help to refocus the investigation.

  2. Obtain and document a statement of certainty for both identifications and nonidentifications.

    BulletIt can be helpful to have some indication of how certain the witness is at the time of an identification (or nonidentification). This can be useful in assessing the likelihood of whether or not the identification is accurate. Later, the witness?s certainty might be influenced by other factors.

    BulletIt is not necessary for the witness to give a number to express his/her certainty. Some witnesses will spontaneously include information about certainty (e.g., ?That?s him, I KNOW that?s him,? or, ?It could be him?). If the witness does not volunteer information about certainty, then the witness can be asked to state certainty in his/her own words. A question such as, ?How do you know this individual?? will often lead the witness to express his/her certainty. If a statement of certainty is not obtained, then the investigator can follow up with the question, ?How certain are you??
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Emphasize why this instruction is important.


Summary: The use of a showup can provide investigative information at an early stage, but the careful use of procedural safeguards can mitigate the inherent suggestiveness of a showup.

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B. Recording Showup Results

Principle: The record of the outcome of the field identification procedure accurately and completely reflects the identification results obtained from the witness.

Policy: When conducting a showup, the investigator should preserve the outcome of the procedure by documenting any identification or nonidentification results obtained from the witness.

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Procedure: When conducting a showup, the investigator should?

  1. Document the time and location of the procedure.

  2. Record both identification and nonidentification results in writing, including the witness?s own words regarding how certain he/she is.

These procedures should be reviewed, however an explanation is generally unnecessary.


Summary: A complete and accurate record of the outcome of the showup can be a critical document in the investigation and any subsequent court proceedings.

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National Insitutes of Justice (NIJ)