T H E
D E T A I L
Monday, July 28, 2003
BREAKING NEWz you can
compiled by Jon Stimac
Visitors Printed Over Norfolk Murder -
QUEENSLAND SUNDAY MAIL, AUSTRALIA
- July 20, 2003
investigating the murder found a number of partial fingerprint and handprint
impressions on a plastic sheet...
Lead Police To Suspected Rapist - NEW
BRUNSWICK SENTINEL, NJ
- July 24, 2003
...fingerprints found after an attempted
burglary last Friday may match those of an alleged rapist, according to police...
Fingerprint Match Leads To Imprisonment -
KTVB-TV, ID - July 22,
routine fingerprint check following a drunken driving arrest has resulted in a
lengthy prison term in a 5-year-old apartment invasion...
Fingerprints: Infallible Evidence? -
60 MINUTES, CBS-TV
- July 20, 2003
Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl reports on "Fingerprints: Infallible
Good morning via the "Detail," a weekly e-mail newsletter that greets
latent print examiners around the globe 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
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has begun to develop guidelines for ten
print accreditation in their Cal-ID Section (AFIS). Help is being sought from
any person(s) willing to share material they have gathered or implemented.
OCSD is familiar with ASCLAD 2003 guidelines and SWGFAST latent print, digital
imaging, automation training and glossary documentation. Additional
comments, ideas and concerns are welcomed, and may be sent to Patti Blume:
email@example.com, fax (714) 834-6446, phone number (714) 834-6417.
Some of the things she is looking for include:
Ten print Examiner: Finger print training modules, proficiency testing/manual
and automated screen samples (binary and grey scale), and finger print
comparison guidelines for manual and automated work environments, recommended
training courses and reading material.
AFIS: Maintenance and calibration records for: live scan, NIST compliant ten
print work terminals (NIST, WSQ, and High Resolution checks), and flat bed card
scanners. System competency checks for: ten print (and latent print) inquiry.
Statistical models used to establish AFIS auto verification thresholds. Archive:
NIST and WSQ compression compliancy checks. Safety: for Video Display Terminals
(VDT). Vendor: Equipment reliability checks, System reliability checks through
AFIS acceptance testing.
Last week, we reviewed the SWGFAST Draft for Comment document, "Standards for Conclusions."
This week, we look at a strange line of questioning from the defense attorney in
a recent Arizona courtroom. Pat Wertheim shares with us this interesting
line of defense questioning:
I was hit with an interesting (and for me, fun) line of defense questioning in
court last week. The trial was a simple DUI third offense. I had been asked by
the prosecutor to compare fingerprints on the prior conviction documents with
the defendant’s fingerprints, and then testify. My partner went with me to
verify the identifications, watch me testify, and do the annual testimony review
form for our lab.
The fingerprints on both prior conviction documents matched the defendant and
direct testimony went smoothly and quickly. The prosecutor asked how we compare
and identify fingerprints and I drew a large poster for the jury showing Level 1
– “Pattern”, Level 2 – “Points”), and Level 3 – “Shapes”. (If you have taken my
class, you have seen that chart.) I was also getting non-verbal feedback from
the jury indicating fairly good rapport. (If you have taken my class, you have
also learned the formula for establishing rapport.) So I was quite happy with my
direct testimony and confident of my ability to deal with anything the defense
attorney might ask me.
We never know what to expect from the defense in these cases. Sometimes, the
attorney simply says “No questions,” sometimes they ask a few questions just to
go on the record as having cross examined the witness, but sometimes these cross
examinations turn more aggressive, more vicious, and more detailed than rape or
murder trials. A brief summary of the questions in this trial went something as
Question: “Mr. Wertheim, do you stay current with the literature on
Question: “When was the last time you read an article on fingerprints?”
Answer: “The latest issue of the Journal of Forensic Identification arrived a
few weeks ago and I scanned through it, but didn’t see anything I felt directly
applicable to my job.”
Question: “There’s quite a controversy going on over in England right now over
fingerprints, isn’t there?”
Question: “Would you care to tell the jury about it?”
Answer: (So I launched into a lengthy discussion of the McKie case from my
perspective as the primary defense witness in that case. It was obvious from the
defense attorney’s behavior that he wanted to cut me off, but couldn’t figure
out how to object to my answering in detail his own open-ended question. The
judge, meanwhile, had leaned back in his chair with a big smile, watching the
defense attorney’s discomfort.)
Next defense question, glad to put England behind us: “Well, Mr. Wertheim, isn’t
it true that family members have similar fingerprints and can sometimes even
have the same details?”
Answer: (I gave a succinct but fairly detailed summary of Kasey & Alice’s paper
on formation of friction ridges and acknowledged that family members, especially
identical twins, may have similar patterns, but pointed to the chart I had drawn
during direct and told the jury that the similarities do not extend to Level 2
and Level 3 where the identification is made).
Question: “Mr. Wertheim, isn’t it true that there are ethnic similarities and
people within the same racial group can have similar fingerprints [the defendant
was a minority citizen]?”
Answer: (I gave a brief summary of the research of Cummins & Midlo and others in
pattern variation among ethnic groups, but once again pointed out that the
similarities are in patterns only, not in the details used for identification at
Level 2 and Level 3.)
At that point the defense attorney gave up, announced “No further questions,”
and I was excused.
However, I was curious whether the defense attorney had known of my involvement
in the McKie case so later that day I phoned the prosecutor’s office and ask who
the defense attorney had been. I then phoned the defense attorney and we had a
good visit. He had read a very brief summary of the McKie case in some defense
attorneys’ publication, but had not known I had been involved. His whole line of
questioning had been intended to find something that he could use to show I did
not stay current with the literature in the field of fingerprint identification.
He acknowledged that he was unable to chip away at me in any of his questions,
but when we said good bye, he commented, “Well, anyway, we sure put on a good
show for the jury, didn’t we?”
The defense attorney did not specifically say so, but I believe he was following
Judge Pollak’s second ruling in the Llera-Plaza case. If you recall, in that
ruling Judge Pollak said he would allow the FBI fingerprint examiners to testify
because they were well trained and experienced and therefore qualified to offer
their opinions in court. The original scope of Daubert was intended by the US
Supreme Court to prove the validity of the science and methodology used by the
examiner, but Judge Pollak extended Daubert to also consider the training and
experience of the examiner.
Had I been uninformed on the controversy in the UK, had I not been able to
discuss embryological formation of friction ridges, had I not known anything
about ethnic variations, the defense attorney would have impeached me for not
staying current in my field. I was fully confident with all of my answers and
went into so much detail that the defense attorney was thoroughly defeated in
his strategy. But I wonder how many examiners in the US could have answered
those three lines of questioning in detail?
When I got into this business, we didn’t have cars and had to walk uphill both
ways through the snow and burning sun just to get to court. No, wait – wrong
story. When I got into this business, we were never called on to go into much
detail on permanence or uniqueness. We never had to discuss methodology. And
there were no controversies other than “How many points does it take?” Testimony
was much simpler then.
Today, a fingerprint witness has to know the scientific basis for friction ridge
identification and be able to explain the methodology in detail. The fingerprint
witness had better be knowledgeable about current literature, because the
defense attorney is. The fingerprint witness must go to court every time
prepared for an exhaustive cross-examination along Daubert lines. And the
fingerprint witness had better look cool, confident, and knowledgeable if he or
she is to prevail.
Pat Wertheim will be teaching a 40-hour class titled “Ridgeology, Daubert, and
Testimony” next November in Tucson, Arizona. Seats in the class are still
available. For information, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 520-237-2188
To discuss this week's Detail, log on to the CLPEX.com
board and discuss your ideas: (http://www.clpex.com/phpBB/viewforum.php?f=2)
And as usual, the onin.com forum
(http://onin.com/fp/wwwbd/) is also available for more formal latent
For discussions with an international flair, check out Dave Charlton's forum at:
The FFF folder is empty, so keep an eye out
while searching the net!
Feel free to pass The Detail along to other examiners. This is a free
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Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.
Have a GREAT week!