Public policy and sequential lineups


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Roy S. Malpass, Department of Psychology, University of Texas at El Paso, 500 W. University Avenue, El Paso, TX 79968, USA (e-mail:


The claim that sequential lineups are superior to simultaneous lineups and that our knowledge of sequential lineups is sufficient to warrant their being required by law is reviewed for the validity of both strong and weak claims of sequential superiority, adherence to principles of research design, and the needs of public policy. We conclude, (1) there is little evidence to support the claim that sequential presentation of photos is responsible for lower levels of false identifications, (2) the evidence is weak that the aggregation of factors commonly labeled as the sequential lineup together produce lower levels of false identifications without additional offsetting effects, (3) much of the literature contains several confounds in research design and additional offsetting effects that question its overall utility, (4) recent research shows that the superiority of sequential lineups is restricted to specific ranges on other study design variables, and (5) the corpus of research on sequential lineups does not satisfy the needs of policy sufficiently to justify its mandated use as the required identification procedure throughout the criminal justice system.