I recently briefed a case involving a drive-by shooting. There was one undisputed fact: Shots were fired from a car. The disputed issue was who pulled the trigger - the driver or back-seat passenger?
There was no gunpowder residue in the driver's side seat, though the residue was thick in the back seat. Thus, the only forensic evidence established that shots were fired from the car - again, this was a non-issue.
Three teenagers had seen the shooting. They told police the shooter was a black teenager who weighed over 200 pounds. Police brought them in for a line-up to see if they could identify the shooter.
What characterics should everyone in the line-up share? It would seem to me that they'd been young, black, and bulky.
Yet the line-up contained one teenager (the suspect), three men 24 years or older, and one man who was 30-years old. Although the suspect weighed 230 pounds, one man in the line-up weighed 160 pounds. The police gave the eyewitnesses a multiple-choice test they could not fail: Pick out the young, husky black male.
Nineteen-year-olds still have baby faces, and no one can seriously argue that a 70 pound weight difference does not show up in a person's face. Yet a state court of appeals held that the line-up was constitutional.
Even though the great majority of men freed from prison ended up in prison due to wrongful convictions, and even though research has shown that eyewitness identifications are inherently unreliable, courts still refuse to scrutinize police line-ups.
Of course, when you view your job description involves affirming convictions rather than doing justice, one cannot expect anything else.