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News Archives - 2007

Making a Mark on Psychology and the Law

Jan. 8, 2006

line up storyPsychology professor Nancy Steblay and a team of student researchers have partnered with Hennepin County police officers to research, apply and test changes in police lineups to help reduce the chances of convicting innocent people.

In the past 14 years, DNA testing has exonerated 183 people from crimes they did not commit but for which they were convicted. In 75% of these cases, primary evidence for conviction was identification by a witness.

When Professor Steblay first encountered early research on simple changes in line-up procedure that could reduce the rate of false identifications, she was intrigued, seeing an ideal application of laboratory research and theory. In the late 1990s, the Department of Justice could no longer ignore that increasing numbers of people were being proven innocent after wrongful convictions. Attorney General Janet Reno gathered government researchers who in turn produced an in-depth study on lineup procedures. At the time, Augsburg did not have a laboratory to conduct its own research on the subject, so Nancy turned to producing comprehensive reviews and sytheses of existing research.

Nancy’s meta-analyses garnered national attention and confirmed that the rate of false identification is lowered when the lineup subjects are presented to the witness one at a time (usually shown in photos), rather than all at once. When Augsburg gained a psychology lab, Nancy involved students in research. “It became the students’ assignment to shoot a crime, and then to help me construct the line-up.”

In 2003 Hennepin County initiated a pilot-project to test new line-up procedures and with the help of a National Institute of Justice grant, Nancy joined the project as a data analyst. When questions came up in the field, Nancy and student researchers tested them in the Augsburg laboratory.

With the current popularity of TV crime shows attracting more students to forensics, Augsburg launched a concentration in psychology and law. Augsburg is one of the few schools that offer psychology and law at the undergraduate level.

To read the complete story, go to www.augsburg.edu/now/.