Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac
Over the weekend I did some housekeeping on the
Topica subscription list. I sent confirmation notices to subscribers not
currently on "confirmed" status. I also found some "unverified" members
that I added to the list. Both of these features insure that you sign up
and want the Weekly Detail, so if you were on the list from before and no longer
wish to receive the Detail, simply unsubscribe from the bottom of this page and
that will be automatically taken care of. I hope everyone continues to
enjoy the Detail!
Next week we will begin accepting the first examples of some of the best
non-matches. The new "Captain Close" will be ready to receive your
submissions next Monday, so be getting them ready. We are looking for
particularly good examples of close non-ID's. The link to the new "Close
Calls" page is under the "Site Features" section of the CLPEX.com.
we looked at a dialogue on point minimums, which again generated some
interesting discussion on the message board. This week we look at an
article by Lisa J. Steele published just a couple of weeks ago in the Criminal
Law Bulletin entitled "The Defense Challenge to Fingerprints".
The 27 page article contains over 100 references in support of the author's
commentary on many current issues in the fingerprint discipline.
Mrs. Steele begins by citing 6 ways a defense attorney can attack fingerprint
1) The evidence (chain of custody, etc.)
2) The witness (training, experience, certification)
3) The science (Daubert concepts, subjectivity, confirmation bias in
4) The methodology (Daubert challenge, overly-suggestive information in the
5) The opinion (defense expert)
6) Legitimate access (print in common location, etc.)
She continues by discussing the pros and cons of stipulating to the known
exemplars and legitimate access. The next section of the paper gives a
brief history of fingerprints followed by suggestions to mount a Plaza-style
1) Fingerprinting was discovered and developed by English administrators, not
2) Since its early days, fingerprint theory has been expanded but has rarely
been examined by scientists outside the field.
3) Until Mitchell and Plaza, fingerprint theory was never examined by courts
under Frye or Daubert.
4) Fingerprints are primarily used for criminal investigations; matching latent
prints from crime scenes is different than matching fingerprints on actual
fingers to exemplars
5) Fingerprinting is a technique, not a science
Next is a short section on "The Underlying Theory" that includes biology to
explain uniqueness and permanence. It is suggested to challenge other
issues like the method or the identification of "smeared partial" latent prints.
"The Identification Process" is then discussed along with factors of distortion.
Mrs. Steele recommends checking for photographic documentation, digital images
for altering, enhancing, or distortion, and forgery (fabrication) of evidence.
She mentions that age determination is not scientifically possible and terms
like "fresh" or "recent" should be objected to. She also mentions that
there will always be "differences in detail" between two impressions and that
the judge and jury should always understand that the identification is an
opinion that is influenced by subconscious bias.
The next section on "Points" describes varying minimums and "ACE-V" as the
replacement for point minimums. She explains the "Ridgeology method", the
three levels of detail, and to listen to make sure the examiner testifies to
working from the latent to the known print. When discussing evaluation,
Mrs. Steele inadvertently used incorrect terminology to discuss distortion
versus difference. She states that "a single unexplained discrepancy
between the latent print and a known exemplar is sufficient to prove
conclusively that the exemplar was not the source of the latent print" but then
goes on to say in the next sentence that "Discrepancies can be caused... by...
pressure..., texture of the surface... and by the material used to preserve and
develop the latent print." I have made the author aware of this
misstatement and she is making efforts to correct this point.
In completing the discussion of ACE-V, Mrs. Steele again mentions verification
as having "inherent subjective bias" and points out to other defense attorneys
that "This may be a fertile area for challenges in the future."
Under a section entitled "Error Rates" the subject of CTI (Collaborative Testing
Service) rates are used to emphasize that examiners "are not infallible".
The author spends considerable time discussing Mitchell and Plaza, and mentions
Simon Cole's book as having "spawned a series of Daubert challenges to
fingerprinting". She also mentions the "1998 Richard Jackson" case in
Delaware, the McKie case in Scotland, and the Cowans case in Boston. (Mayfield
had not happened at the time this article was submitted) She
specifically mentions that the Joiner court "was concerned about the standards
for comparison, noting that they were 'insubstantial in comparison to the
elaborate and exhaustively refined standards found in many scientific and
technical disciplines' and that prosecutors are advised to "elicit testimony
about the expert's personal proficiency instead of relying on the field's
reputation among jurors."
Focus on Plaza emphasizes it "is not a blanket endorsement of the general
admissibility of fingerprint evidence", and concluded the discipline is "not a
science." Mrs. Steele cites that the Plaza court "had its greatest
difficulty with fingerprint comparisons at the stage of comparison where the
examiner makes a subjective judgment about the quality of the match."
Again emphasis is placed on training and certification standards of examiners,
and if they do not meet or exceed the qualifications of FBI examiners in Plaza,
it is recommended that they "move to exclude the examiner under Plaza as
In an entire section devoted to "Subjective Bias" Mrs. Steele goes on to explain
that "the fundamental problem in any subjective comparison with the
psychological phenomena known as 'confirmation bias'" has not been considered,
and that it "can play a significant role in dostorting test results regardless
of the validity of the underlying theory." She explains that confirmation
bias is "a tendency to seek out and interpret evidence in ways that fit existing
beliefs" and cites examples including hair comparisons and eyewitness testimony.
Mrs. Steele then gives some examples of "voir-dire questions."
Do you conduct technical procedures under clearly defined policies and
Did you follow those policies and procedures in your examination?
Do you know what a peer-reviewed journal is and why it is important?
Do you regularly read any peer-reviewed journals? Which ones?
Are you a member of any professional organizations? Which ones?
What qualifications are required for examiners hired by or assigned to
Do you think that newly hired examiners should have college training in
Can you explain "error rates" and their relevance to your testimony?
Can you explain "Confirmation bias?"
Do you know how to construct a scientifically defensible validation study?
In under a minute, can you explain the reasons for and value of
Can you name the last two latent print validation studies your
department has conducted?
Do you keep an equipment maintenance log?
Do you participate in regular, structured proficiency testing? How did you
What is the minimum passing score in your department?
When you take the test, do you know it is a test?
Are the problems used in your test harder or easier than the comparisons you
made in this case?
Are you certified as a Latent Print Examiner? By whom?
Do you know what SWGFAST is and how often it meets?
Is your organization implementing SWGFAST guidelines?
What do you think of the SWGFAST guidelines? Are they too restrictive, not
restrictive enough, or about right?
Is your department using the ACE-V method? If not, what methodology are
you using and why is it superior?
Could you define ACE-V for the jury?
Can you explain ACE-V's premises and processes in about three minutes?
How many levels of ridge detail are posited in ACE-V?
What level of detail is most commonly used to effect fingerprint
A "no print defense" section outlines when to use this and when to not use this,
and also when to suggest that additional development techniques might have
"exposed the real bad guy". A section on additional testing on evidence
precedes the conclusion, and the paper ends with the best situations to use the
"no print" defense.
The entire article is available (with permissions from the publisher) in the
CLPEX.com reference section under the Daubert subheading.
To discuss this Detail, the
message board is always open: (http://www.clpex.com/phpBB/viewforum.php?f=2)
More formal latent print discussions are available at
FUNNY FINGERPRINT FIND
A judge has also noted "alarmingly high" error rates when fingerprint examiners
took proficiency tests; in 1995 only 44 percent of 156 law enforcement examiners
could correctly identify all five prints in the test, and in a 1998 study the
number improved to only 58 percent."
Perceptive readers will by now see a connection between the fingerprint analysis
and the identification of problematic bird species [eg waders in non-breeding
Yeah... that's what I was thinking.
Thanks to Steve Howard for this week's FFF.
Management circle will return next week
UPDATES ON CLPEX.com
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