T H E
D E T A I L
Monday, October 27, 2003
BREAKING NEWz you can
compiled by Jon Stimac
Decides Against Crime Database -ACCESS
NORTH GEORGIA -
Oct. 21, 2003 ...state will not
join a crime database that tracks personal details, citing cost and privacy
Remains Found By
Hunters Identified As Suicide -
- Oct. 18, 2003
...human remains found by
two hunters have been identified as a 33-year-old who apparently committed
suicide 15 months ago...
Thumbprint Leads To Man's Conviction -
DAYTONA DAILY NEWS, OH
- Oct.17, 2003
thumbprint on a hand-drawn diagram at the aborted robbery of a store led to a
Dayton man's conviction...
Scientific Sleuths - FT. WORTH
STAR TELEGRAM, TX
- Oct. 17, 2003
investigation shows, such as the popular CSI, and Court TV, are generating
interest in the sciences...
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 our field.
Check out the slightly revised CLPEX.com home page!
we looked at a written
opinion from U.S. District Judge
Ralph R. Beistline regarding a motion to
exclude fingerprint evidence in the District of Alaska. This week,
Bill Leo brings us the result of a very recent Frye hearing in California.
In the continuing attacks on friction skin evidence,
Simon Cole, who is now an Assistant Professor of Criminology at the University
of California at Irvine was once again offered by the defense as an expert on
the scientific reliability of friction skin evidence. The trial took place in
Los Angeles Superior Court and ended with convictions on October 2, 2003. At the
beginning of the trial for armed robbery, a written motion to exclude
fingerprint evidence under Frye (California does not acknowledge the Daubert
Federal standard) was filed. The prosecution, (Deputy District Attorney Garrett
Worchell), filed a written response and Judge Harvey Giss denied the motion to
suppress the fingerprint evidence. It should be noted that information from Ed
German’s web site on Daubert provided assistance in the preparation of the
written response to the defense motion.
The fact that Cole would be called as a defense witness was also disclosed at
the beginning of the trial. Based on this information I was requested to provide
rebuttal testimony if and when Cole was allowed to testify.
During the trial I was allowed to remain in the courtroom and monitor the
testimony of Forensic Print Specialist II Michael Ames of the Los Angeles Police
Department. Ames testified to the identification of a latent print found at one
of the robbery scenes.
During the defense portion of the trial, Cole was called as a witness and an
evidence hearing (402 hearing) was held outside the presence of the jury. The
hearing was to determine if Cole would be allowed to testify and if allowed to
testify, what limitations would be placed on his testimony. Prior to the
hearing, I had provided DDA Worchell with questions to ask Cole during the
examination. I also was seated at the counsel table where I could monitor Cole’s
testimony during the hearing and provide advice to the prosecutor if needed.
Judge Giss opened by saying that he would allow just about any type of questions
during the hearing. Judge Giss stated his reason for this was because he wanted
to have a thorough understanding of Cole’s qualifications and his positions on
any question that he could possibly be asked during testimony before the jury.
In fact, at times during the hearing Cole was allowed to continue talking about
a subject rather than just answer questions.
Cole testified that there was no scientific research to support that all areas
of friction skin were unique, but that he “felt” fingerprints probably were
unique. He stated that the reason fingerprint evidence has never been
sufficiently challenged in court is because in the early 1900's, the courts were
not as sophisticated as they are today. He testified about the results of the
1995 CTS proficiency tests and the identification error that took place on the
East Coast which was reported on “60 Minutes”.
One of the most interesting questions came from the Judge near the end of the
hearing. Judge Giss asked Cole for his opinion regarding what he felt would make
fingerprint evidence scientifically acceptable. Cole stated that a “matrix”
would have to be created by taking a large number of “known latent prints” of
varying levels of difficulty and have them compared with the “known exemplars”
to see if fingerprint examiners could really make identifications of partial
prints with accuracy. A number of latent print examiners were present to here
this startling news. Comments included, “Cole just described how we train new
latent print examiners”. When Cole was asked if he was aware of Galton’s
statistical study supporting the uniqueness of fingerprints, Cole responded that
he was and believed Galton concluded that the chance of a duplicate fingerprint
was one in four.
At the conclusion of the approximately two hour hearing, Judge Giss ruled that
Cole would be allowed to testify before the jury with limitations. (This was the
first time any court had allowed Cole to testify before a jury.) Judge Giss said
his ruling was partially based on a recent appellate ruling that overturned a
lower court for not allowing an expert in another field to testify to the
reliability of that evidence.
Cole was limited to testify only to his opinions as to the reliability of
fingerprint evidence and the scientific research of fingerprint evidence. Cole
would not be allowed to testify about the CTS tests or errors made by other
examiners in other cases because the qualifications of those people were not
known. The Judge also correctly pointed out that the defense was not offering
any experts to testify that an error or misidentification had occurred in this
case. (It should be noted that at least two real fingerprint experts were also
hired by the defense and had reviewed the fingerprint evidence in this case, but
were not offered as experts at the trial.)
During the trial before the jury, Cole revised his statement that there was no
scientific research to support that all areas of friction skin was unique. He
now stated that the research was not sufficient to support what we say we can
do. This modification may have been because Cole saw me sitting in the courtroom
with a stack of books that included Galton’s Finger Prints, Wentworth and
Wilder’s Personal Identification, and Cummins and Midlo’s Finger Prints, Palms
and Soles. Cole was asked during cross examination — Are you aware that the
matrix you described was already being used and that it is a common way
fingerprint examiners are trained? Cole testified that because these training
programs have not been reviewed by scientists, they would not be a valid test.
I was the last witness called during the trial and was also limited in my
testimony. I testified to some of the scientific research into the formation of
friction skin and the one hundred year history of the use of fingerprint
identification around the world, which has included since the1890's the
identification of partial prints found at crime scenes. I also testified to the
fact that courts around the world have accepted fingerprint evidence.
I also described Galton’s statistical study in more detail and explained the
results of his study. I testified that Galton had stated in his book that the
statistical chance of a duplicate print was 1 chance in 64 billion. At the time
Galton’s book was published, Galton used what was believed to be the population
of the earth, 16 billion. Therefore he stated that the chance of a duplicate
fingerprint was one chance in four times the population of the earth, not just 1
in 4 as testified by Cole. I also explained that Galton later learned the
population of the earth was closer to 1.5 billion, which changed his probability
to 1 in about 37 times the population of the earth. I was asked about other
statistical studies, but because of an objection by the defense, I was only
allowed to state that there were others.
Both defendants were convicted. I do not know the specific details of the entire
case, but I was told that the print evidence was a significant part of the
prosecution of one of the defendants.
William Leo, CLPE
Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department
To discuss this Weekly Detail, log on to the CLPEX.com
PROFOUND FINGERPRINT FINDS
"some prints match; some prints
don't, and I calls 'em as they is."
"some prints match; some prints don't, and I
calls 'em as I sees 'em."
"some prints match; some prints don't, but you
ain't got neither till I calls 'em!"
Adapted by K. Wertheim
from a baseball analogy of H. Cantril
(balls and strikes by an umpire)
Feel free to pass The Detail along to other examiners. This is a free
newsletter FOR latent print examiners, BY latent print examiners. There are no
copyrights on The Detail, and the website is open for all to visit.
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Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.
Have a GREAT week!