Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
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Faster Fingerprints as Cops try Roadside Test
GLASGOW EVENING TIME, UK
- Nov 22, 2006
...it means officers won't have to take suspects to the station for
Fingerprints Lead Cops to Alleged Killer
DETROIT NEWS, MI-
Nov 20, 2006 ...fingerprints on a flashlight
used to kill a father of two helped find his killer...
Suspect Surfaces in '03 Homicide
ROCK HILL HERALD, SC
- Nov 18, 2006 ...fingerprints and cooperation between
federal and local police led to the arrest in Missouri...
New Fingerprint Technology IDs the Bad Guys Faster than Ever
POLICE NEWS, CA
- Nov 17, 2006 ...fingerprint technology has developed more
in its past 15 years than it did in the first 100 years...
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Charles Parker 26 Nov 2006 06:51 pm
Internship in Forensic Science
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DNA transfer from fingerprint brush?
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Processing Fired Cartridge Casings
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A question for RUVIS users
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WAKE UP KASEY!!!!
Neville 21 Nov 2006 01:21 pm
UPDATES ON CLPEX.com
Updated the Smiley Files with two new smiley's... the latent
has a neat story associated with it from Michael Williams in NY:
had a fun one the other day. I developed a fingerprint on a paper note from
a burglar. This time was not a burglary – just a stupid criminal note after
a larceny which he quoted himself as saying he would never be caught, that
he is a “thief” and a “scumbag.” I can’t wait to see the court reaction to
his admissions. I could see the smiley when developing with Ninhydrin.
When I hit on SAFIS I confirmed it was a smiley and also found he had around
nine pages on his rap sheet for burglary, aggravated harassment and some
violent felonies. We are still waiting on the submitting agency to confirm
he was not the victim – which is not likely.
we took a look at a recent article that is critical of latent print
examination, as well as two replies to the article.
we hear from Dave Charlton and Itiel Dror on psychology research involving
Forensic Expertise and
by David Charlton
from Forensic Update 87 - October
Division of Forensic Psychology Awards
Much of the discussion within this paper is based upon my experiences as a
fingerprint expert and latterly as a research student with Dr Itiel Dror at
the University of Southampton. My initial concerns and research interest in
my own professional methodology compelled me to conduct a literature search
on psychological influences on decision-making. I contacted Dr Dror at the
University of Southampton and was invited as a PhD research student to
conduct and assist in various research threads associated with cognition and
decision-making using fingerprint analysis as a central theme to these
studies. This work has highlighted that the decision-making of fingerprint
experts can be influenced by external factors such as emotional responses to
evidence placed before the expert in a certain context. The notion of
contextual bias within the identification sciences has now become an
accepted terminology and has entered the mainstream forensic literature as a
way of explaining in part some highly publicised erroneous fingerprint calls
over recent years.
This brief paper outlines a few basic concepts behind my research which has
recently culminated in my receiving the Division’s Junior Award.
As a nationally registered fingerprint expert working with the police
service I have become increasingly uneasy with the apparent ease with which
both the judiciary and the wider general public accept evidence without huge
cross-examination and interrogation. Some years ago I prepared a case for a
murder trial that involved the identification, compilation and presentation
of literally hundreds of latent finger marks form a myriad different but
associated crime scenes. Expecting many hours of court questioning by
defense barristers, I prepared tirelessly for many weeks to learn my case,
fully familiarise myself with the evidence and generally prepare to answer
any question put before me as the expert witness in the case. I was at the
same instant relieved yet horrified to spend less that four minutes under
oath. Both prosecution and defense, without testing the evidence in the
court, accepted my evidence in chief. This troubled me. As an expert witness
my duty to the court is to inform and to educate so that jurors should make
informed decisions as to guilt or innocence. Could it be that my general
demeanor, my suit and tie, my qualifications, my employer and the very
nature of the evidence was actually influencing the course of justice to a
point where fingerprint evidence was accepted without question?
In many countries the individualisation of a single finger mark from a crime
scene to a suspect can lead to the conviction of a perpetrator of a crime,
and in some cases can mean long terms of incarceration and even execution.
The burden and responsibility placed upon a latent print examiner is great.
In the compilation of evidence and the ultimate presentation of that
evidence in the courts, the fingerprint expert is a figure of some respect
and authority. The judicial system places trust in the ability and
competence of the expert witness. Jurors place their faith and confidence in
the word and opinion of the individual presenting fingerprint evidence. To
demonstrate that expert witnesses are credible they must be sure and
resolute in their decision making skills, and be certain in the knowledge
that what is presented as evidence is in fact the truth, the whole truth and
nothing but the truth. Fingerprint experts are indoctrinated from the
earliest days of training to be certain in their decisions, never waver and
to understand that there is no grey area in a fingerprint comparison. The
conclusion reached can only ever be individualisation, or exclusion, or that
the clarity within the comparison is so poor as to make the decision
inconclusive. Either way, the fingerprint expert is expected through
training and experience to be able to differentiate between finger marks of
varying quality thresholds. The expert is expected to reach an absolute
conclusion that when explained to the court will leave the judiciary and
jurors in no doubt as to the accuracy of the evidence being presented.
If we assume that the acceptance of fingerprint evidence, or any other form
of forensic evidence, is based on trust by the judiciary and public in the
credentials of the practitioners and scientists, then what happens to the
weight of that evidence when the levels of self-trust within the individual
fingerprint examiner wavers?
From my own experience it is troubling that fingerprint examiners are
sometimes unable to make a decision on a particular fingerprint comparison
on one particular day, only to be able to make a clear and cogent decision
the very next day on the same piece of evidence. Such daily variables in
ability to make a decision cannot be acceptable if it is acknowledged that
fingerprint expert training, experience and adherence to strict examination
protocol and procedure should negate such swings in decisiveness. If all
known procedures are applied diligently it must be conceded that other
factors are relevant to the decision making process.
Fingerprint expert examiners are not supposed to exhibit behavioral traits
associated with uncertainty or self-doubt. It is a sign of weakness in the
eyes of many within the fingerprint profession to display anything other
than absolute certainty. Through objective analysis using a methodology
known as ACE-V (Ashbaugh, 1999), that is to say through careful assessment,
comparison and evaluation, the expert is expected to reach a conclusion as
to individualisation or not, as the case may be,
with absolute certainty. These findings are then verified through repeatable
procedure by fellow expert examiners, who will confirm or counter the
original examiner’s decision.
As well as objectivity in the processes and procedures of fingerprint
analysis, there is also an element of subjectivity in the interpretation of
minutiae within the detail that constitutes friction ridge skin. This
conflict between objective analysis methodology and the visual subjectivity
of the examiner has not until recently been explored in the domain of
forensic science. This divergence of philosophy has contributed to recent
controversies within the fingerprint analysis domain. Controversy that has
led to the criminal justice system, academics, the public and the media
questioning the very fabric of fingerprint evidence as a reliable and
The case of Shirley Mckie in Scotland has sent shock waves around the world
amongst the fingerprint and wider forensic scientific community, and has
indicated to an increasingly skeptical public the level of subjectivity that
is applied to the science of fingerprint analysis. Shirley McKie, a police
officer, was arrested for perjury after she made denials in a murder trial
that she had left her thumbprint at a crime scene associated with the
investigation. The normally routine act of eliminating by way of
fingerprints of police and others who have legitimate access to crime scenes
had resulted in a dispute of individualisation that goes on to this day.
Fingerprint experts from around the world have asserted that a mistake has
been made. Indeed, Shirley McKie has been acquitted of the crime. But a not
insignificant number of individuals from the fingerprint community still
assert that the finger mark is indeed that of the aforementioned former
police officer. Michael Mansfield QC has called for a public inquiry,
stating that ‘the whole so-called science of fingerprints needs to be
re-examined’ (O’Neill, 2006). Academic critics of fingerprint science have
also been vocal on the evidential reliability of the processes and
methodology. Simon Cole, a criminologist at the University of California,
has stated: ‘fingerprint matching is undoubtedly a valuable tool for
catching criminals but nobody knows how often examiners make a wrong call’ (Bamber,
Dr Itiel Dror suggests, ‘the mind is not a camera. It is a dynamic machine
that can distort what it sees. Perception is far from perfection’ (Dror et
al., 2005). If Dror is correct in this statement, then how can a fingerprint
examiner have total faith and trust in what they see? This premise may lie
at the heart of the very subjectivity to which I alluded to earlier.
Friction ridge skin is elastic and malleable. Deposition pressure can affect
the way friction ridge skin may present itself to the examiner. Likewise,
movement and slippage at the time a latent print is deposited on a surface
will affect the appearance and quality of the crime scene mark. All such
factors require interpretation and understanding by the examiner before a
conclusion on individuality can be reached. Relative correlation between
points of reference on a finger mark from a crime scene are used during the
comparison process when comparing features on the crime scene mark with a
known exemplar of a suspect taken under laboratory conditions. The relative
configuration of such reference points is important to the identification
process. Figure 1 [on the website version of the Detail] shows an example of
a comparison chart using relative features in friction ridge skin from a
known exemplar and an unknown source.
Ridge detail such as distance between individual features, ridge thickness
and ridge counts between minutia all influence the decision of the examiner.
Should the quality of a crime scene mark be very poor then it can be argued
that the human eye could be fooled into seeing something within the print
that is not there?
While such visual illustrations are fun to look at, they do at their core
have a very serious message for fingerprint experts. Namely, that what is in
the mind’s eye is not always what is actually there. This is a fundamentally
dangerous phenomenon for any scientists involved in visual interpretation,
whether it be fingerprint recognition, facial recognition or trying to
recognise a bomb in a suitcase at an airport security lounge.
Such visual effects are in themselves enough to potentially influence the
decisionmaking processes of fingerprint experts. But research has also
identified another potentially dangerous influence on the expert, namely
contextual top-down processing. Dror et al. (2005) suggested that emotions
of individuals at the time of a fingerprint comparison could indeed
influence their end decision. Dror et al. (2005)showed that
participants were affected by top-down manipulations on emotional responses
engendered by disturbing crime scene imagery. Where the fingerprints to be
compared were classed as difficult, or ambiguous, then the participants in
the study were more likely to make affirmative judgement calls if associated
within a disturbing context.
The study results, while interesting, required confirmation within the
fingerprint expert domain. Since the findings mentioned above were derived
using laypeople (students), it was important to confirm these findings
within a real-world forensic environment.
A further investigation took place to see whether fingerprint experts could
objectively focus on feature information within a fingerprint analysis
without succumbing to misleading extraneous information such as context (Dror,
Charlton & Peron, 2006).
Figure 2 [on the website version of the Detail]: Visual interpretation of
the central figure in the chart above will depend on the visual context
placed before the examiner
Fingerprints that had previously been examined and assessed by latent print
experts as a positive match were re-presented to the same experts, but
within a context that the correct conclusion should be a negative match.
Within the new context most experts made differing judgements to their
original conclusions thus contradicting their own earlier findings. This
study was repeated with a new set of fingerprint experts and produced the
same end result (Dror & Charlton, 2006) – namely that contextual bias was a
key driver in the decision-making process.
Findings in earlier studies have highlighted that fingerprint experts are
vulnerable to contextual influences. It will be important to try to
ascertain how these influences manifest themselves, how such influences
might be minimised or eradicated, and what steps could be taken to enhance
training, accreditation and methodology to improve the resistance of experts
to such influences. To begin to understand the emotional drivers of
fingerprint experts I have embarked upon qualitative studies of fingerprint
experts to better understand the motivational factors that experts
experience during the process of fingerprint examination. Only by isolating
the core emotions and motivations and then placing those emotions within a
specific context can we better understand what it is that is influencing
experts at the time of decision. For example, are expert examiners more
emotionally driven by serious crime like rape or murder, or are they just as
likely to be motivated to examine evidence from a vehicle break in or
burglary with the same set of professional values applied to each scenario?
Future research will further investigate the training of forensic experts to
identify how such training might be improved through better understanding of
the psychological influences on the human being. By understanding how humans
and especially forensic experts visualise images we can be better placed to
offer enhanced training packages for fingerprint experts to alleviate many
of the potential weaknesses in the methodology of fingerprint comparison.
Finally, it will be important to investigate the decision-making processes
of fingerprint experts within the real-world domain where technology is
playing an increasingly prominent role. It will be important to assess how
new technologies are either strengthening or diluting the decision-making
abilities of experts. Another key strand of investigation will be the way in
which forensic evidence is both served on the court and how the public and
judiciary alike receive it. For example, should fingerprint evidence be
presented using word of mouth only, or do visual presentations
convey the message within the evidence more effectively?
Ditto and Lopez (1992) have shown that information consistent with a
preferred conclusion is examined less critically than information that is
inconsistent with a preferred conclusion. This is interesting when applied
to the verification process for fingerprint matches mentioned earlier in
this paper. It could be that knowledge of a positive outcome or
identification of a fingerprint may influence the verifier. It could be that
they would look at the detail within the fingerprint less critically on
verification if they prefer to see a positive outcome – for instance, in a
murder case where the conviction of the ‘bad guy’ is paramount by the
public, police and wider judiciary. This merits further
Only then, as a psychologist and as a fingerprint expert can I regain my own
selftrust in my abilities to accurately interpret fingerprint evidence. By
conducting such research the fingerprint profession as a whole can engage
the trust of the public and wider criminal justice system that fingerprint
science is as reliable and methodologically sound as it can be.
University of Southampton
School of Psychology, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ;
Ashbaugh, D.R. (1999). Quantitative-qualitative friction ridge analysis: An
introduction to basic and advanced ridgeology. New York: CMC Press.
O’Neill, E. (2006). Mark of innocence. Guardian, 18 April, 6–9.
Bamber, R. (2005). Fingerprints fail reliability test. The Times, Public
Agenda, 20 September Dror. I.E. ( 2005). Fingerprint doubt. Forensic
News, Police Professional, 3 November.
Dror, I.E., Peron, A., Hind, S. & Charlton, D. (2005). When emotions get the
better of us: The effect of contextual top-down processing on matching
fingerprints. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19(6), 799–809.
Dror, I.E., Charlton, D. & Peron A. (2006). Contextual information renders
experts vulnerable to making erroneous identifications. Forensic Science
International, 156(1), 74–78.
Dror, I.E. & Charlton, D. (2006). Why experts make errors. Journal of
Forensic Identification, 56(4), 600-616.
Ditto, P.H. & Lopez, D.F. (1992). Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 63(4), 568–584.
Too often scientific work fails to impact the real world. Three main reasons
for this dichotomy are:
■ The scientific work is too abstract, academic, and remote from the
practicalities of the real world, and thus it is not applicable and able to
make an impact.
■ People in the real world do not want to hear about scientific research;
this may be due to the lack of respect for basic science and scientists,
wanting to stay in charge and keep control over their domain and not have
outsiders tell them what to do, or that they just do not like what
scientific research has to say.
■ Real-world settings conduct their own research, which in practice is often
too narrow, not derived from theoretical understanding and conceptual
framework, is self-interested and motivated to promote specific agendas, is
too close to the politics, ideology or people at the workplace and is thus
influenced and biased.
This partial list illustrates the grave challenges and obstacles in bridging
scientific research and the real world. In areas of forensics these issues
are further exacerbated and additional issues arise (such as legal and
It is thus rare to see how scientific research really impacts on the world
of forensics, and especially in problematic issues of human error and
misidentifications of suspects.
David Charlton, this year’s recipient of the Division of Forensic
Psychology’s Junior Award, is a par excellence example of achieving this
highly challenging goal. He has been engaged in conducting scientific
research about errors in fingerprint identification. As he is a fingerprint
expert himself, this topic is highly sensitive and he has had to endure
defensive and even personal responses from some of his colleagues in the
fingerprint world. However, he has continued with his objective scientific
research, pursuing it with personal integrity, professionalism and
David Charlton came into the academic world through his interest in
understanding the underpinning of his work in the forensic domain. His
intellectual curiosity and intellect pushed him to go beyond being a
practitioner. However, his academic work did not cause him to abandon the
real world either. David continues to keep his feet on the ground in
The research of David Charlton has already impacted on the work of forensic
experts worldwide. There is no question that this is due to the high quality
and excellent research he has conducted, but that would Junior Award: David
Charlton only be enough to receive academic recognition. David’s work has
gone beyond academia because of his dedication and concern about the real
world of forensics.
Bridging academic research and the real world is not only important in terms
of the impact and improving practical things, but because the relationship
is reciprocal. The transfer of knowledge is bidirectional: not only do
findings from scientific research impact the real world, but the application
of the research then feeds back to the academic domain and contributes back
to the scientific research. Thus, rather than a dichotomous or a one-way
parasitic relationship, bridging research and the real world should be a
symbiotic relationship where all sides benefit and contribute to each other.
David Charlton has built such a bridge in the fingerprint identification
domain. I want to personally congratulate him on this achievement and I am
sure we are going to see David continuing his productive and interesting
work for many years to come.
Itiel E. Dror
University of Southampton
Forensic Update 87 – October 2006
Division of Forensic Psychology Awards
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