Original Article

Law and Human Behavior

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 1-24

First online:

Suggestive Eyewitness Identification Procedures and the Supreme Court’s Reliability Test in Light of Eyewitness Science: 30 Years Later

  • Gary L. WellsAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Iowa State University Email author 
  • , Deah S. QuinlivanAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Iowa State University


The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling concerning suggestive eyewitness identification procedures (Manson v. Braithwaite, 1977, 432 U.S. 98) has not been revisited by the Court in the intervening 30+ years. Meanwhile, scientific studies of eyewitnesses have progressed and DNA exonerations show that mistaken identification is the primary cause of convictions of the innocent. We analyzed the two-inquiry logic in Manson in light of eyewitness science. Several problems are discussed. Ironically, we note that suggestive identification procedures (determined in the first inquiry) boost the eyewitnesses’ standing on three of the five criteria (used in the second inquiry) that are used to decide whether the suggestive procedures were a problem. The net effect undermines safeguards intended by the Court and destroys incentives to avoid suggestive procedures.


Eyewitness Lineups Suggestive identification procedures Expert eyewitness testimony