Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac
Bill Would Add
Fingerprints to Driver's Licenses -
EVERETT HERALD, WA -
Feb 22, 2004 ...state senators passed a
bill that would allow the use fingerprints and high-tech means for
Scientist Gets Unique Career Boost -
WINCHESTER STAR, VA
- Feb 19, 2004 ...like a younger version
of a CSI character, student flicks her wrist and dusts a fingerprint
brush over a soda can, searching for prints...
Gun Used in Driver Slaying Had No
Prints - EXPRESS TIMES, PA
- Feb 18, 2004 ...except for a smudged
palm print, police found no fingerprints on the shotgun...
Agents Find Man Deported for Life -
SIERRA VISTA HERALD, AZ
- Feb 14, 2004 ...fingerprinting of an
illegal immigrant has again led to discovering a person who was
deported after being convicted for sexual assault...
Last week, we looked at a few
excerpts from an excellent article by Shaheen Bibi Aumeer regarding quality
assurance. This week we look at excerpts from an article by Sandra Wiese
that touch on her perspectives regarding the philosophy and methodology of
latent print identification. I love the tag-line on the complete article
(on CLPEX.com): "An Editorial Perspective Disguised as a Research Paper"
From Galton Points to
one examiner's journey
Northglenn Police Department, Colorado
Excerpts from the
paper. (The following paragraphs were extracted
from the paper, and therefore may appear out of context. The
entire paper is available on
CLPEX.com in the Reference section under Identification Philosophy and Theory)
the question shouldn’t be so much what is “sufficient,” but how the
determination of “sufficiency” is in fact scientific. The question here is
always some variation of: If I use my judgment to determine sufficiency, then it
is a somewhat arbitrary and subjective decision and therefore inconsistent with
the idea that friction ridge identification is a science instead of an art.
I do believe that friction ridge identification is a science, not an art, but if
I am going to testify to it, I have to be able to explain it and counter
those people who came before me who have characterized it as an art.
Cowger writes that T. Dickerson Cooke, one of the most respected workers in this
field, wrote in 1973 that, “Pronouncing that two friction skin impressions…were
or were not made by the same area of friction skin is an art, not an exact
science. It is entirely a matter of judgment based on training and experience (Cowger,
How can I
counter that on the stand? Have I been led down the wrong path?
My confusion must be contagious and it may be spreading to the courts.
More than one defense attorney and more than one defense expert has attacked
fingerprint evidence on this basis alone. District Court Judge Michael had
this to say in his dissenting opinion in U.S. v. Crisp:
“One forensic expert (Stoney) contends that there are no standards; there are
no minimum point requirements. The movement away from point requirements
‘is not based on scientific study. (Epstein)’ and there is disparity in the
field regarding the use of level 3 detail for id. (because of distortion) ‘One
dissimilarity’ in two impressions is thought to be a universal standard, but if
an examiner believes the prints match they explain away the difference rather
than discounting the match. Verification is considered to be essential, but
cases exist where no verification took place; and even verification that does
take place is not independent and objective. All of this leads (Stoney and Cole)
to the belief that ‘[t]he criteria for absolute identification in fingerprint
work are subjective and ill-defined.’ (Wertheim/Weekly Detail 123)”
Judge Michael was not convinced that
friction ridge identification is a science under the rules of the court.
Although the previous excerpt was from a dissenting opinion, Judge Michael
obviously feels strongly that the friction ridge identification field has not
made its case and he is in a position to influence decisions in similar cases.
Perhaps James Cowger was a little overly optimistic when he wrote, “that this
element of judgment exists as a necessary element of the comparison is certainly
not seriously questioned (Cowger, 148).”
I could find
no explanation of how this judgment is not subjective or how this subjectivity
relates to friction skin identification being a true science in any of the
professional friction skin comparison sources. So I took it a few steps
outside the fingerprint realm to find my answers. First, I looked up the
terms “subjective” and “objective.” All of the dictionaries I looked at
basically broke down the differences as being dependent on personal feelings
(subjective) or being independent of personal feelings (objective). Fair
enough. Then I looked into what makes any study a science. The most
consistent litmus test seemed to be the application of the scientific method.
On to looking up what exactly constitutes the scientific method. Guess
what? Scientific method does not include objectivity by definition in any
reputable source I could find. To me, this couldn’t be a mere coincidence,
but it took a little more thought to fully understand.
It finally hit me: Scientists in
every field do use their judgment when they are applying scientific
method and principles. Take medicine for instance: Doctors use their
judgment every day, yet they are still simultaneously applying scientific
methods and principles. And just because they do so does not make
medicine an art or even any less of a science. What a concept. The
judgment of a doctor is based on his or her training and experience and this
is why it is not purely subjective and this is why medicine is a science even
with the application of judgment. That is also why different friction skin
examiners can both look at the same print and come up with differing amounts
that they consider “sufficient.” The difference is because of the
differences in training and experience, not because the science is invalid.
That simple. The problem? The texts in this field do not explain it
helped me to understand subjectivity versus objectivity and “sufficiency” with a
very simple story. This is as good a time as any to share that story with
A car runs a red light at a high rate of speed causing a fatal accident.
The car speeds away from the scene.
There are four witnesses to the entire incident. All four were standing on
the same street corner, the same distance from the accident.
The first witness is a 16-year-old high school football player. He tells
the responding officer that the run vehicle was an “old, shiny red and white
convertible.” He doesn’t know a Chevy from a Ford, knows even less about
vehicle years, he doesn’t know about different license plates and he did not pay
attention to this one anyway.
The second witness is an average 32-year-old male. He reports to the
officer that the run vehicle was an older model Corvette convertible, red over
white and that the vehicle had Wyoming plates, but he did not get the number.
The third witness works at a Chevy dealership and is an antique car buff.
He tells the cop that the vehicle was a cherry red over white 1958 Corvette
convertible with Wyoming plates. He further advised that he has attended
antique car shows in the Rocky Mountain Region for over 30 years and that he has
only ever seen one vehicle like that and he knows the owner’s name is John Smith
and that he lives somewhere in Laramie, Wyoming.
The fourth witness is an off-duty Wyoming State Patrol officer. She tells
the responding officer that the run vehicle was a cherry red over white 1958
Corvette convertible with Wyoming plates. She also advised that she had
recently checked Department of Motor Vehicle records for a similar vehicle that
was involved in a separate traffic incident she was currently investigating.
Her investigation to date in the other case revealed that there was only one
vehicle of this make, model, year and color registered in Wyoming and that this
vehicle was registered to John Smith of 123 Chestnut Ave. in Laramie, Wyoming.
All four witnesses saw the same thing from the same vantage point.
All four therefore had the same objective observation (facts is facts).
All four witnesses had the visual information available to them to
identify the run car, but only two of the witnesses had the training and
experience to individualize the vehicle.
This story did more to enhance my understanding of the whole subjectivity and
sufficiency argument than anything I have read or heard to date. It is a
very simple way to explain what I thought was a difficult concept.
Northglenn Police Department, Colorado
To discuss this Weekly Detail, log on to the CLPEX.com
message board: (http://www.clpex.com/phpBB/viewforum.php?f=2)
More formal latent print discussions are available at
"I can get a print off air"
2004 CSI calendar, January
Submitted by Richard Swanson
Colorado Bureau of Investigation
When a co-worker becomes the boss
Someone you have worked with for years is suddenly promoted to manager of your
division. You're happy for your friend, but you're worried about how to
respond to the change in status. How can you graciously take orders from
someone who used to be your equal? Follow these tips:
1) Recognize that your relationship must change. For both you and
your new boss to succeed, the focus of your relationship must shift from
camaraderie to work. Preserving your friendship may be important, but it
cannot take priority over meeting the expectations of your jobs.
2) Take it in stride. The change in your relationship has nothing
to do with you personally. Instead of reacting negatively, focus your
energy on building a positive working relationship with your new boss.
3) Respect your boss's authority. Your co-worker is now responsible
for your assignments, salary increases and performance reviews. Remember
that authority changes what we expect from people, how we treat one another and
how we interpret behavior.
Avoid asking for special treatment. You may be tempted to expect perks
because you've worked closely with the boss in the past. Giving into this
temptation could create tension and force your former colleague to keep his or
her distance from you.
-The Editors, Communication Briefings, October 2003,
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