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Despite biased lineup, Pennsylvania man to face charges in Mexico

A Pittsburgh-area man will be extradited to Mexico to face charges of murder and sexual assault after a U.S. federal judge gave the order on Oct. 17. The judge ruled in favor of prosecutors despite the fact that the charges against the man were based in part on a suspect photo lineup.

The federal magistrate admitted in making the ruling that the photo lineup was not admissible in U.S. courts. In a photo lineup, investigators present several photographs to witnesses, including one of the suspect, and ask the witnesses to identify who they saw. The tactic does not always produce an honest result. For example, police sometimes coach witnesses to select the suspect's picture. Also, eyewitness testimony can be unreliable, due to tricks memory can play.

Another way a photo lineup can be unfair to defendants is when it is set up so that it is virtually impossible for the witness to pick anyone else besides the suspect. In the case of the Pittsburgh-area man, police used a photo array in which every other man pictured was Mexican and had a mustache, making the defendant conspicuous in his difference. The witnesses also were not shown the pictures until six years after a 16-year-old male who the suspect had hired as an assistant was found dead in a hotel room.

While acknowledging that the lineup identification did not pass legal muster, the federal judge ordered the extradition anyway. She reasoned that "other reliable evidence exists" that justifies sending the defendant to face trial.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Greene County man to return to Mexico to face charges," Oct. 19, 2012

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