T H E
T A I L
Monday, September 10, 2001
Welcome to the sixth "Detail," a weekly e-mail newsletter that
greets you every Monday morning. The purpose of the Detail is to help keep you
informed of the current state of affairs in the latent print community, to
provide an avenue to circulate original fingerprint-related articles, and to
announce important events as they happen in our field.
Congratulations "gdurgin" for the
winning last week's BidNow item: Galton's "Finger Prints." The auction
ended last night after meeting the reserve of $399.99. What a steal! The second
copy of Finger Prints has arrived, and is currently for sale at the CLPEX.com
bookstore. It was from a private collection, and is in very good condition:
http://www.clpex.com/bookstore.htm. Thanks for those who participated in this
week's CLPEX BidNow auction... and I look forward to offering next month's
unique BidNow item. I will announce what the item is in the first Detail of the
Last week we doubled our distribution!... There are now
well over 200 of you receiving The Weekly Detail!! Thanks for your
positive feedback and encouragement... I hope to continue to provide a valuable
service to a great group of people.
BREAKING NEWz you can
We have addressed the current
round of attacks on the science of fingerprints in recent Details... Well, here
is another one that, as far as I can tell, was published to the
"Why Files" on
the internet just last week. It also appears to be a public relations
article for Simon Cole's new book.
the Article HERE. One
of the pages in this article deals with our subject today; Objectivity.
However, the rest of the content is mostly based on several arguments which seem
to do nothing but confuse the public as to the
reality of our science. I plan on sending an e-mail from their feedback
page at some point this week and expressing my opinions about the content of
Here is another article that appears to be a David Stoney special.
article goes a slightly different direction, but there are only a few basic,
fundamental attacks that are being used against fingerprints. This article
concentrates on the DNA comparison. The previous article addresses, among
other concepts, individualization using statistics (which would involve
probabilities), "proving" biological uniqueness, identification from
partial, smudged prints, practitioner error, and standards to prevent
I plan on devoting an upcoming
Detail, maybe next week or the week after, to the discussion of the major
concepts we see being used against the science of fingerprints, and expanding on
each one. If you would like for YOUR thoughts on one of these concepts
to be included in the Detail, just shoot me an e-mail. I'm easy to
find! :) Of course, you can always log on to the discussion forum afterwards,
and give your thoughts.
IAI "Call for
Curt Shane, Program
Coordinator for the IAI, asked me to issue a Call for Papers so we have a great
program for latent print examiners at the upcoming IAI conference in Las Vegas,
Nevada. If you would like more information about presenting a paper or
conducting a workshop, please contact Curt Shane at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our feature in this week's Detail is part two of
the first original article on CLPEX.com. Last week we looked at part one
of "The Team?" Wes Sossomon expands further on the
concept of objectivity in this week's Detail:
The Team? Part II
The obligation to conduct
objective evidentiary examinations and provide unbiased testimony
ultimately, first and last, rests with the individual examiner. Latent
print examiners have the duty to conduct examinations according to
well-established scientific protocol, apply experience and competent
training to such examinations, and present testimony regarding any
conclusions subsequent thereto within the limits of the science. While
all of us are interested in seeing justice done, a conviction for the
sake of a conviction and the "solving" of a case, does not
amount to justice unless it is based upon the truth. Therefore, the only
personal interest an examiner should have in any particular case is to
establish the truth. Now, the truth seems to be a reasonably simple
concept; yet we have all seen examples in which the truth was the least
important. Rather, the focus was upon whichever side could spin the
facts and evidence in favor of their position. Latent print examiners,
above all others, should remain above such practices and dedicate
themselves to do what is expected. That is, to identify friction ridge
skin prints with the sole purpose of establishing the truth.
Despite the contrary opinions
of some who are not latent print examiners, friction ridge skin
examinations are absolute and these findings are the only ones possible:
The questioned and known prints were made by the same source; The
questioned and known prints were not made by the same source; and, The
questioned and/or known prints lack sufficient detail to allow a
conclusion to be made. When conducting an examination the examiner
should never lose sight of the fact that lives are, in most instances,
literally at stake. Friction ridge skin evidence is so compelling that
it has the potential to be the sole factor in deciding whether or not a
person accused of a crime is ultimately deprived of his or her liberty.
When we stop and think about it, this is an awesome, awesome burden and
we have to approach our work with it foremost in mind.
All of us have experienced the
exhilaration of identifying a latent print from a scene of crime as
having been made by a suspect. And, of course, we give such an
identification the weight that it deserves. However, we sometimes tend
to be disappointed when we eliminate a suspect as being the donor
of a crime scene print, but it should be remembered that this finding is
just as significant as an identification. It is within our province to
not only determine whether or not a particular print was made by a
particular person, but also to insure that such evidence is not
misrepresented as being something other than what it actually is.
The perception that government
employed latent print examiners are incapable of presenting unbiased
testimony regarding latent print examinations has gained prominence due
to a small number of well-publicized cases in which misconduct has been
substantiated. Practitioner error or outright fabrication of evidence
are included among some of the more common attacks on latent print
examiner testimony. However, the defense is not the only side capable of
stretching the truth. Take the following dialogue as an example:
Q. Now you have
testified, sir, that you identified a latent fingerprint recovered
from this glass jar that has been identified by a crime lab chemist
as containing methamphetamine, is that right?
Q. And you have
testified that this latent fingerprint was made by the defendant?
Q. So, in other
words, the defendant was at some point in possession of the
How would you answer this last
question? The implication is obvious, but can the examiner accurately
conclude one way or the other if the defendant was at some point in
possession of the drugs? How about this answer:
A. At some point the
defendant touched the glass jar and left the latent print.
How about this answer:
A. Oh, yes. Definitely.
Hopefully, a semi-competent
defense attorney would object to high-heaven about the last question,
but this scenario or a similar one could very easily happen in any
courtroom in the world. The point here is that it is the examiner’s
duty to testify within the scope and limitations of the discipline and
the facts of the examination. He or she should not fall victim to the
subtle and sometimes not so subtle questions by the prosecution who is
attempting to glean more from the evidence that what actually exists.
A recently published example
involves the case of Alan McNamara who was imprisoned upon his
conviction for allegedly having committed burglary. According to the
published article, the primary evidence sustaining the conviction was a
single fingerprint that authorities stated was recovered from a specific
item at the scene of the crime. Upon examination of the print and
evaluation of it in consideration of the attendant circumstances of its
recovery, a latent print examiner with 25 years of experience in the
police force concluded that the evidence print could not have been
recovered from such item as stated. In his own words, according to a
recent news article on the case, this officer commented "I was not
allowed to take the stand for the defence when I was in the force, and
the only way I could give evidence was to leave." Given the
implication that the print evidence in this case was, at best
misrepresented and, at worst, a purposeful fabrication, as concluded by
this examiner, why was he not required to simply present
evidence; notwithstanding for whom?
Having pointed out that this
type of prosecution tactic does occur, it would be wholly unfair to not
also point out that this is not necessarily the rule. In general,
attorney’s are very highly competitive personalities. They abhor
"losing" and devote their entire selves to
"winning." This perceived competition thrives in an
adversarial system. The latent print examiner must not be lured into
this competitive arena. He or she must be above it and, from the very
beginning, be dedicated to the exhibition of professional, ethical
conduct that puts others on notice that the only interest is
establishing the truth as determined by a forensic examination and that
what is true is true, regardless of any attempts by anyone else to
For the most part those
prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges who exhibit professionalism
and are bound by the canon of ethics, recognize those forensic examiners
who are bound only to their duty and remain above the "win or
lose" mentality. Experience has shown that these are the examiners
who are most sought out so that either side may gain knowledge of the
truth about an examination of evidence. The truth sometimes is a bitter
pill to swallow. If it can be established it usually falls in favor of
one side over the other. But, that is not the primal concern of the
examiner. It is only the examiner’s interest to determine it.
Arguments as to which side it best benefits fall within the purview of
In conclusion, latent print
examiners are members of a team. Not the prosecution team nor the
defense team, but rather the team of professionals who’s sole interest
is in conducting evidentiary examinations in an honest, straight-forward
fashion according to scientific protocol. This does not mean that there
is any "secret society" which members must protect the
sanctity of at all costs. It means adhering to the strict moral and
ethical requirements of the field in which we practice, and occasionally
it may mean identifying and expelling those who do not meet these high
standards of conduct.
There is a place on the discussion board for
comments regarding OBJECTIVITY and latent print
examiners. Please feel free to comment
on this week's Detail.
UPDATES ON THE SITE THIS WEEK:
Added a few more books to the Bookstore.
Updated the Training schedule.
Added an Article: The Team, by Wes Sossomon
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Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.
Have a GREAT week!