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Monday, November 19, 2007

 
The purpose of the Detail is to help keep you informed of the current state of affairs in the latent print community, to provide an avenue to circulate original fingerprint-related articles, and to announce important events as they happen in our field.
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Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac

New Fingerprints Found in Blood of British Student Killed in Italy – INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE, FRANCE - Nov 17, 2007 ...bloody fingerprints have been found on the pillow of a student found slain in her bedroom...

Trial Begins for One of Two Men Accused of Killing Family of Five – WCBS-TV, NY - Nov 16, 2007 ...a bloody partial palm print found in the doorway matched prints collected from suspect...

Prints Link Man to Victim's Car –  MUNSTER TIMES, IN - Nov 15, 2007 ...a fingerprint expert testified that evidence gathered from a crime scene matches the fingerprints of a man on trial for the 2004 slaying...

Ohio Wants Your Fingerprints – CANTON REPOSITORY, OH - Nov 14, 2007 ...agencies are required by a new state law to get fingerprints from everyone they cite for any of at least 71 misdemeanor crimes...

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Jan Seaman Kelly 230 Fri Nov 16, 2007 3:53 pm

Statistics and Misidentifications - The weeks Detail
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Randall's Post from the Maryland Thread
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Latent Print Examiner Position in Santa Cruz, CA
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Looking for a DNA policy
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Earprints
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Fingerprint Positions -- Austin Texas
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UPDATES ON CLPEX.com


Updated the Fingerprint Interest Group web page with FIG # 22.

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Last week

we concluded a 3-part historical series on the rarity of features in friction ridge identification.

This week

we review a 2-part editorial regarding the Maryland court fingerprint decision.

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Fingerprint Ruling Unjust, Hurtful to Victim's Family
by Wayne T. Fleming Sr.

November 6, 2007

I am the father of the murder victim in the case in which a Baltimore County Circuit judge ruled that fingerprint evidence will not be allowed. I can't tell you how devastated my family is that the judge picked our case to challenge more than 100 years of precedents to make her point that current fingerprint forensic methodologies, although widely used around the world, have an insufficient scientific basis to be allowed as evidence in a capital case.

Yet the grieving family, having placed its trust and confidence in the judicial system to render justice, is expected to chalk it up as the cost of being civilized. That price is too high.

As the legal community scurries to make talking points and pontificate on the potential ramifications of this opinion, attention is taken away from the case immediately affected by this miscarriage of justice. My family lost our son, brother, nephew, cousin, grandson, uncle, husband and father in broad daylight while he was departing a shopping mall parking lot.

My son was shot in the head, from behind, by someone who doesn't deserve the many blessings our civilized society works so hard to extend to all.

Our society has spent years debating the notion of cruel and unusual punishment. When do we start the debate on cruel and unusual protections?

In this case in which the fingerprint evidence is so important, Judge Susan M. Souder is making her point despite the cost to my family in particular and society as a whole. I assume that she believes that she is right. But what if she is wrong? How can she feel so secure in her technical academic musing, which would strike down the validity of a scientific field with more than 100 years of practice?

All of our complex sciences at some point default to statistical expressions of probability and are subject to errors of interpretation. They are all in some respects fallible.

Do we discard them all because of it? No, we continue to use our best practices, while working like the dickens to cost-effectively improve them.

In this case, the judge could have chosen to instruct the jury, reasonably, to note the imperfections of the science when considering such evidence. Instead, she struck the fingerprint evidence altogether, suggesting that she thinks herself smarter than the potential jurors and the rest of the world in these matters. The judge's opinion in this case is wrong, even if she is right about fingerprints.

There are better ways to force this debate than to strip the Maryland justice system of such a tool whose usefulness anyone with common sense can recognize in our effort to cope with a society riddled with crime, especially in and around Baltimore.

Today, it's my family that has to cope with the effects of this opinion; tomorrow, it might be yours.
 


Mr. Fleming's son, Warren T. Fleming, was shot and killed leaving his business at Security Square Mall on Jan. 5, 2006. Mr. Fleming's e-mail is wayne.sr@comcast.net.



Unfair for courts to admit unreliable evidence
November 10, 2007
by Aaron Gavant
Pikesville

(The writer is a student at the University of Maryland School of Law and a former intern for Judge Souder's court.)

One cannot help but feel for Wayne T. Fleming Sr. and his family ("Fingerprint ruling unjust, hurtful to victim's family," Opinion • Commentary, Nov. 6). Their son, husband and brother has been ripped out of their lives through a seemingly random act of violence.

That said, deciding whether partial fingerprint evidence is admissible in court should not be based on emotions.

Indeed, it is precisely the "technical academic musing" of judges and other legal scholars, which Mr. Fleming derides, that must be employed to make this kind of decision.

And after reading Baltimore County Circuit Judge Susan M. Souder's ruling on the use of fingerprint evidence, it seems clear to me that significant doubts exist over whether the methodology behind fingerprinting forensics is reliable ("Judge bars use of fingerprints in murder trial," Oct. 23).

It appears that expert opinions in the field are colored by subjectivity and can be relied upon only to a very limited degree, if at all ("Fingerprint evidence on trial," Oct. 26).

Mr. Fleming suggests that whether those opinions are reliable should be left to the jury.

However, as the basic rules of evidence suggest, courts must be careful as to what is admitted under the rubric of expert testimony.

When a court-approved expert gets up and states an opinion, his or her statements are given significant weight by the jury. This problem is even more acute in the case of fingerprint evidence, which has long been portrayed by popular TV shows as being very cut and dried.

Even if a judge were to clearly explain to a jury at the end of a trial that fingerprint forensics are highly subjective and should be taken with a grain of salt, jurors would be very likely to believe a fingerprint expert who says a particular set of prints belongs to a particular defendant.

If this is the case - and the most qualified people to determine if it is would seem to be judges and other legal scholars - such evidence cannot fairly be admitted.

Mr. Fleming implores us as citizens to do something about this ruling, for although today it is his family that has to cope with its effects, tomorrow it might be ours.

Unfortunately, he does not consider the opposite proposition - that our families might have to cope with the effects of an opposite ruling.

What if I or a loved one were falsely accused of a crime and a fingerprint "expert" places my prints at the scene of a crime?

What recourse would I have?

Such was the recent horror of Brandon Mayfield, an American lawyer who was falsely connected to the Madrid bombings by fingerprint evidence.

I don't claim to be sure that fingerprint forensics does not live up to the admissibility standards of evidence law in Maryland. I am merely a second-year law student studying evidence law for the first time.

I do, however, know that judges and others in our legal system are charged with protecting the innocent and fairly prosecuting the guilty. And that people in positions like Judge Souder's must prevent the introduction of what they perceive as untrustworthy evidence, even if the results of such a ruling are less than ideal.

As the old saying about free speech goes, "I may hate what you're saying, but I'll fight for your right to say it."

Similarly, I may hate that seemingly guilty people get off, but I will fight any attempt to unfairly prosecute them.

Aaron Gavant
Pikesville


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