The Six-Pack and Criminal Investigations

By Det. Ivan Kaminsky, CTU Adjunct Faculty – Criminal Justice

Line UpThe goal of any investigation is to find the truth. However, sometimes methods we use to uncover the truth don’t measure up. The “six-pack” is one method that has long had a role in how law officers identify suspects recently been called into question; with other alternatives being explored for improved accuracy.

“Six-pack” is slang for a single sheet of paper with a photo of the suspect and five others who bear a resemblance.  Victims and/or witnesses will view the page, offering a common response that the suspect they saw “looks most like this one” or “out of all of them, this is the closest.”

Such replies are problematic. Did the viewer identify the suspect, or did they just pick the one that is most similar? How should you as investigator value a statement like that? Might an overzealous investigator put more stock in such a statement than it merits?  Won’t a defense attorney make such suggestions?

One alternative to the six-pack is a sequential lineup. With this method, the viewer is shown the same six photos, but can only view them one at a time. Since no two photos are visible at the same time, the viewer compares their memory of the suspect to each photo individually; rather than comparing the six photos to each other. 

The use of a sequential lineup or a “double blind lineup,” which will be the topic of a future blog, is catching on among criminal justice practitioners nationwide. To improve accuracy, some states have introduced legislation to dictate how law enforcement agencies show lineups to witnesses.  Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals. They report that the wrongful identification of perpetrators by witnesses and victims is one of the most common reasons behind errant convictions which are later overturned using DNA evidence. When lawmakers and reform advocates both agree on a topic, it is one worth considering in your jurisdiction!

Have a question or comment about criminal investigation methods? Leave a comment below.

Ivan KaminskyIvan Kaminsky is an adjunct instructor in the Criminal Justice program at Colorado Technical University. A detective with the Chandler, AZ police department, he holds a variety of professional memberships and certifications in investigative techniques and tactics. He holds his undergraduate degree from Arizona State University and his M.S. degree in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University. 

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