Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac
Prints Link Trio to Lots of Pot –
UNION DEMOCRAT, CA - Sept. 24, 2004
...through the fingerprints officers
lifted off items left at the scene, the suspects were tracked
Fingerprints on File, Right From the Patrol Car –
NEW YORK TIMES, NY - Sept. 23, 2004
...high-speed wireless communications
could become widely available to officers in the field, not just
those back at headquarters...
Police Fingerprint Plan Draws Fire –
TORONTO SUN, CANADA
- Sept. 21, 2004
...proposed changes that would let Toronto police keep fingerprints
of people charged but not convicted of certain crimes...
Print Case 'Shames Scots Justice' –
BBC NEWS, UK - Sept. 20, 2004
..."Scotland's fingerprinting agency
has become a worldwide embarrassment," according to an expert...
we looked at latent print sufficiency as a three-tiered structure; sufficient
for case evidence, sufficient for comparison, and sufficient for
individualization. We defined the differences between each tier and saw
that at each one of these levels it is possible for latent prints to drop off,
or not be sufficient for the next level.
we further explore and clarify additional points on this subject.
Re: Latent Print Sufficiency
by Tom Adair
I'm curious about something Mr. Wertheim, if we follow your argument to it's
logical conclusion then doesn't it at least suggest that a crime scene analyst
or latent examiner should process every possible surface in a crime scene for
latent fingerprint evidence? Shouldn't finger marks, with no ridge detail, be
collected or swabbed for possible DNA evidence? If a latent impression has one
or two ridges with level three detail present over a very small surface area
shouldn't that be collected as well for review? In a robbery of a public
business (like a fast food restaurant) shouldn't everything in the restaurant
(including trash) be collected for possible analysis and comparison by "any"
examiner who argues it might contain "valuable" evidence? If the fingerprint
examiner doesn't process every possible surface then aren't they doing an
"injustice" to the system? After all, failure to collect evidence that may be
used to defend or exonerate a person in court would be wrong, correct (see third
quote)? What about not using every method (i.e. chemical reagents, fluorescent
powders, Lasers or ALS) possible to develop prints at a crime scene or on
evidence? If a crime scene investigator only uses black powder, aren't they
potentially missing evidence that could be "meaningful" to "any" other analyst?
How do you view our responsibility to the criminal justice system? Are we to
investigate every possible theory or are we to conduct a reasonable analysis and
make reasonable decisions? I've copied a couple of quotes from your article and
while they may be somewhat out of context the underlying message I get is the
argument I've described above.
"Is it possible that ANY determination could be made from this impression by ANY
"What if a DNA analyst determined that they couldn't deal with mitochondrial
DNA, so they didn't preserve a piece of hair evidence?"
"What I am ready to do is uphold my responsibility to the criminal justice
system and preserve evidence that may be valuable in a criminal case. To do
otherwise with a latent impression when the possibility does exist (however
small) for another examiner to arrive at any conclusion, reeks of egotism and
I obviously have concerns with some of what you are saying. As a fingerprint
examiner and crime scene investigator I don't believe justice is served by us
becoming garbage collectors (that is to say collecting every item in a scene
because "any" other examiner "might" argue it is relevant in some way). In doing
so, I think the criminal justice system would creep at an even slower pace than
the pathetic state it is in. In my humble opinion, I believe it is the job of
the analyst to make reasonable decisions about the evidence they encounter at
crime scenes. I prefer to analyze a scene to determine what evidence may be of
probative value to the investigation. This means making decisions about what
evidence will be meaningful for a court and the investigation as a whole.
Evaluating a very poor impression to conclude that a particular person could not
have made that impression may not assist the courts in drawing any meaningful
conclusions. For example, if a poor quality print (one that is of very small
area and contains only level one detail) could be used to determine that the
defendant did not make that particular impression, what does that tell us in our
holistic analysis (how does it look through the wide angle lens?)? Does it mean
that the person in question was not there? Does it mean that they did commit
some illegal act? Does it mean someone else committed the act? The answer to all
three would be no, in my opinion. What value does that impression hold if it can
not be identified? It's only value is to eliminate a particular person from
making that specific mark. Now obviously, if that mark happens to be developed
in an area that has significant meaning in the investigation (such as a weapon
or a point of entry) then it's value may increase and investigators may weigh
the value of it more heavily. I don't know of any of my colleagues who would not
document even a poor impression in an area like this. But that's not what we're
talking about, I don't think. We're talking about ANY print ANYWHERE that ANY
other analyst could argue it MAY have ANY meaning.
Obviously, the evidence collected by most crime scene investigators is evaluated
for presentation in court. If a fingerprint (or any other item of evidence) is
not collected then it can not be used against a defendant. One might then argue
that the point is that other evidence (or fingerprints) might support the
argument of excluding a particular defendant from committing a crime. But then,
haven't we have gone back to the original argument of "collect everything"
because it may be of value. Ultimately, it is up to the lawyers to argue what
should or should not have been collected, and juries or judges must weigh the
arguments. Most agencies simply do not have the resources to collect or process
every item found at a crime scene. Processing crime scenes and evidence is about
making choices. Sometimes we make the right ones, sometimes we make mistakes (or
so it's argued). I wholeheartedly agree that reports should be written in a way
to fully document the analysis, however, at crime scenes, there are some
impressions I simply do not collect due to their very poor quality. There are
also areas of crime scenes I simply do not search for latent fingerprints,
depending on the evidence present, witness statements, and my experience and
Perhaps I have misunderstood your position and if so I'm truly sorry. I'm sure
that I'm off track of the discussion regarding "latent print sufficiency" as it
was probably intended. I value much of what you bring to these discussions and
your voice is a welcome sound in the choir. I make these comments, not simply to
argue a point, but to engage you in a discussion to better clarify your position
to me. Also, I think my points are something we should consider when engaging in
this discussion. What is the responsibility of the crime scene analyst at the
crime scene? If you care to, I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on my
Westminster Police Department
Thank you for your well thought out and lengthy response.
A portion of your message encapsulates an example I gave within the Detail...
that just because a difficult impression is capable of being excluded does not
mean the suspect didn't touch the item or commit the crime.
The reason I "went there" with this week's Detail is to get people talking about
this subject. This is the direction that many ASCLD-LAB inspectors are going,
and if you have anything in your policy and procedure about documenting the
sufficiency of latent prints, they may take it to mean sufficiency for anything
by anybody, and you might get "dinged" for not having done this. If you don't
have "sufficiency" defined, then it's up to them.
I have heard talk throughout the last year about requiring preservation of all
ridge detail. I had hoped these rumblings would go away, but they have not.
I also agree with your main point... there comes a point where collection
becomes impractical. But who decides this? The analyst does. In your case, it
sounds as if you are the analyst and the examiner. The Detail was not written
for you... it was written for those who do not have examiners in your position.
As a latent print examiner, I would much rather be the judge of impressions than
the crime scene technician not trained in latent print analysis. I would rather
sift through 12 latent lifts and only mark 1 latent print of value than to not
have anything at all to look at. That was the intent of my message.
As for setting the threshold, it also operates on the collection end of things.
Sure, you could spend 2 days completely processing a burglary scene. But it
isn't practical. I recognize that... I'm talking about impressions that ARE at
prominent places in the scene. Who is to say the smudge at the POE is not worth
lifting? The latent print examiner with a magnifier and good lighting, that's
who. And most times, that person isn't at the scene... so I'm saying go ahead
and lift it for later.
Discussion is good!
In what situation(s) is it acceptable for CSA's who are not trained to
competency in latent print examination leave ridge detail at a crime scene
Do you feel it is acceptable as a latent print examiner to not conduct a
complete comparison of a small area of ridge detail because of the real-life
constraints of agency budget/time shortages? If so, who should set that
threshold? (you or the agency?)
Do you feel it is ironic that we are talking about documenting and keeping more
when budgets and time for cases seem to be less?
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
Surefire ways to tame stress
There's never enough time. Reports
are due. Project deadlines are looming. Stress is closing in on all
of us. You can't make stress go away completely, but you can use these
tips to remove some of the edge:
1. Replace the phrase "I have to" with "I get to." Even the most onerous
tasks seem easier and less stressful if you get to do them. By removing
the feeling that you have to do something, you've reduced some pressure and
2. Write down your thoughts when you're in a stressful situation. After
you're done, you can crumple up the paper and throw it away.
3. Tackle the most stressful tasks first. As the day wears on, we become
tired and our stress defenses lag. So it's best to handle the most
stressful events early in your day when your body is most alert and rested.
Adapted from "Twelve Tips to Reduce Stress,"
Communication Briefings, February 2004, www.briefings.com.
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Have a GREAT week!