UPDATES ON CLPEX.com
The 90th Annual IAI Educational Conference in Dallas Texas was an extremely
successful event Texas truly lived up to their reputation:
"everything was BIG!!" Jim Gettemy and the committee Chairs put
together an awesome program, and Jim and Candy Murray did a superb job of
planning and organizing the conference.
A few notes from the event:
Initial research by ORNL and DOE indicates that exposing non-porous evidence
to acetic acid fumes prior to CA development may develop better ridge
detail. (images and information will be forthcoming in a Detail soon)
The Latent Print Certification Board announced that the time limit for the
CLPE test has been extended from 6 to 8 hours. In addition, you can
work on any portion of the test at any time during that 8 hours. (entire
minutes to be published in the JFI)
Congratulations to two newly elected members of the Board of Directors...
Lesley Hammer and Debbie Leben. Also, contratulations to Vicki Inlow,
the new 4th VP.
* The results are in... Your favorite 2005 CLPEX.com
"Not everything that can be counted counts... and not everything that
counts can be counted"
Submitted by Jean Curtit.
Stephanie Louk-Denney had the second favorite
slogan... "One way... Or another... We're gonna get you... we're gonna
getcha getcha getcha getcha."
o see them both and order your shirt, visit the CLPEX.com
You can also now order CLPEX.com apparel
from this year and previous years
in a variety of styles (t-shirts, golf shirts, sweat shirts) colors (ash,
white, and others) and any size. There are discounts for ordering
multiple items, so make sure you check out the details on the CLPEX.com
* The Detail Archives have been updated this week, so if you
missed last week's Detail, log on to the Archives page of the site.
Rich Raneau responded to Dusty Clark's article,
"Conclusions That Can Be Drawn from the Detail Present".
We look at a recent episode of "Talk of the Nation",
airing Friday on National Public Radio. You can listen to the entire
archived presentation by going to the following link:
Talk of the Nation: Faulty Forensics
guests Jonathan Koehler and Barry Fisher
Friday, August 12,
(The below is paraphrased in concept from dialogue, and does not represent exact
It’s an exciting world in the TV world of forensics, but how close to the
Hollywood sets and actors match forensic science in the real world? And how
well do real forensic techniques meet the validation techniques required in
scientific research? According to some critics, it’s not well enough.
According to the journal “Science”, forensic scientists may not be getting
enough training, and faulty forensic science is a leading cause of faulty
forensic evidence. There isn’t enough research to show that even
fingerprinting is a reliable enough way to link someone to a crime. This hour
we are going to take a look at the evidence for and against some of the forensic
techniques we take for granted; do these methods hold up under scientific
scrutiny, and what can be done to improve the quality of science coming out of
our crime labs.
Guests: Dr. Jonathan Koehler, University of Texas, Austin
Barry Fisher, Director of the LA Sheriff’s Department Crime
On the graph on the first page of your article, you look at wrongful convictions
using data provided by the Innocence project shows 86 examples where people were
exonerated, and in 60% faulty forensics was involved. Were they deliberate?
Most often where there were mistakes, they were committed by well-meaning
people. It’s hard to know whether training or procedures were involved, but
better protocols and more testing is necessary to know how good these examiners
Fisher: Forensic science is growing, but in many areas there are lack of funds
necessary to conduct the type of research Dr.
is talking about.
Hopefully the senators and Congress we have been working with recognize that
there are a lot of needs and will move those efforts forward. There has been a
large number of people hired in the field, and we need to conduct “capacity
building” where they are replacing a large number of very experienced retirees.
We need better ways to train people to do quality laboratory work. Local
laboratories don’t necessarily have the funds available just because of 911. We
need research to say that facial or hand geometry, for example, are valid.
There is a wide range of research that needs to be done, but it comes down to a
matter of money. Typically, Congress needs to define areas and funding and the
issue becomes how we go about educating people in administration and Congress on
the importance of what we do and what role Forensics plays in criminal justice.
All new technologies are exciting and should be pursued with vigor, and I agree
there should be funding available for research and training. Further, courts
should decide whether these techniques are good enough to bring in to court.
Daubert requires that all techniques used in court should be founded in the
scientific method. For example, research on new facial recognition technology
should be published and peer reviewed before admitted into court. What we need
is validation of the technique and validation of the application of that
technique to the case at hand. We also need to know what is the error rate
of that examiner. If I can’t have the individual analysts error rate, I would
like to see the error rate of the laboratory or the industry-wide error rate.
How often when they say “match” is it in fact not a match. We really don’t have
a very good idea for fingerprinting, because until recently the forensic
sciences have resisted such a test. There are some proficiency test results in
fingerprinting, and the news is good or bad, depending on how you look at it.
The error rate seems to be on the order of a couple of percent. Since 1995,
about 4-5% of fingerprint analysts make at least one error. Most people do a
pretty good job, but somewhere between 4 and 6% make a mistake. One one hand,
95% is pretty good. On the other hand, most of us wouldn’t fly on an airplane
that had a 95% chance of landing safely. I would want to identify who the
people are and what the circumstances are that lead to the errors. Sometimes a
really nice clear print might be a little easier to match than a partial print,
There have been some proficiency tests in hair and bite marks that have been
fairly disastrous. Fingerprinting does pretty good compared to other forensic
sciences, but for example voice print identification error rates are about 63%,
handwriting error rates at 40%. A lot of time this information on error rate
doesn’t make it to the jury. It’s not perfect, and it’s based on proficiency
testing, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention to these error rates. I
think it’s signaling that there is a big problem in traditional forensic
Traditionally, defense counsels were reluctant to challenge fingerprinting
because it was so well established in the courts that a challenge wouldn’t be
taken seriously. But recently, we have seen attorney’s and even judges
challenge fingerprinting without any motion from the defense attorney. For the
most part, these challenges are failing, and fingerprint evidence is still
sneaking in even with the Daubert criteria intact. Judges tend to review the
available evidence, find it’s lacking, but find some way around and let it into
court, like referring to 100 years in court or its ability to convict the
Just because fingerprints or others are unique, what is at issue is our ability
in a specific case to arrive at such a conclusion: that this is a print of this
Fisher: There are a couple of things in play… the Daubert decision decides
whether the evidence can even get to the jury. Once there, other information
can diminish the weight or value of the evidence. Let’s assume that people who
work in crime labs make errors, and one of the things we have to grapple with
how probative the evidence is. One of the conundrums we face is that these
procedures that don’t follow traditional science were developed to solve
problems that police officers face. There is no doctoral degree in handwriting
or fingerprints; these procedures developed over a number of years. Since
Daubert, the way in which courts looked at evidence has changed. Since Frye,
requirements are being made for reliability and other things. We research and
publish in peer review journals, and entities need to fund additional research;
there hasn’t been the investment in this particular area to address these
problems. It’s OK to talk about the failings in an academic sense, but funding
needs to be allocated to address these problems.
We agree… money should be provided. And I also agree that Daubert is designed
to curb “junk science”. There is some probative value to DNA and
fingerprinting and others, but we aren’t going to know the value of that until
the research is conducted. One of my concerns is the way the match evidence is
described by analysts in court. There seems to be a sort of culture of
exaggeration in traditional forensics sciences. You very often hear “100%
positive” match, no possibility that this fingerprint or this hair can come from
someone else, there is no such thing as a mistake with this technology.
These sorts of things are complete nonsense. Just one example is the Mayfield
case who was matched to a fingerprint that the Spanish police lifted off
detonators in the Madrid Spain bombing case. Three FBI examiner said 100%
“that’s a match, another retired examiner also said “That’s a match” but the
Spanish police didn’t agree, and they ultimately matched it to someone else.
But had it not been for the Spanish police, we would have had 4 top experts in
the United States saying it’s a match. I don’t know what would have happened to
Brandon Mayfield. It makes no sense at all to describe matches in terms of 100%
certainty. It’s just not the scientific way.
Fisher: In general, I agree. I think there are difficulties in maintaining a
100% point of view. An examiner can be wrong. These arguments are played out
in the courtroom, and it’s a very strange place to have scientific arguments.
You have lawyers who aren’t scientists arbitrated by judges who are not
scientists. These are best suited to play out in an academic environment.
There is a certain amount of partisanship that is bound to play out in a
courtroom environment. If the right kinds of research designs and institutions
can be put together, they are solvable or at least boundable. If you go back to
fingerprints vs. DNA testing, should we make a statement about whether these
samples are 100% or should we assign some statistic. There are limits to any
measurement you make in science, and you have human error that crops into any
human endeavor you are doing. I don't think it’s proper to offer
statistical testimony in court. I think at the end of the day, fingerprints are
reliable, do have probative value, solve crime and exonerate innocent people.
There are some times when evidence doesn’t do what we hoped it would do. I
think that juries probably at least need to know this, take that into the jury
room, and put that into the calculus they use to make their decision.
Caller: I see all this on TV and see the cool tests they are doing, and the
Chief of police says we just don’t have the money to do all of these things.
Are these things going to continue to be cost prohibitive, or will we start to
see these in smaller departments?
Fisher: CSI is entertainment, and although there is some basis of fact, they do
exercise literary license. You can read about the CSI Effect online, and there
needs to be some study to see how real that is.
Doing things right is expensive. I don’t know where the funding will come from,
but it is very important. Once statistics is introduced, often juries are
confused or misled. As it becomes complex, juries are likely to turn to other
things that are easier to understand. When a juror hears that a body is found,
there is a match, and 1:1million share that blood type, I have heard of jurors
say that it must be him because those chances are like winning the lottery. And
even the statistics are limited to the fact that examiners can still make
Caller: why do these forensic scientists know that they are testifying to in
court is wrong, and go forward with false statements? How come they can’t be
held accountable for false testimony?
Fisher: Perjury and falsifying evidence are serious felonies that, if convicted,
they can be sent to prison on.
The forces are conspiring to giving us the information we need. As the public
becomes more aware that many of these errors are occurring, and judges get the
courage to implement the Daubert criteria, we think that the funding will come.
But in general on faulty forensics, we are taking a much more optimistic view
about this subject than other academics who have looked at this and said “it’s a
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