Updated the Fingerprint Interest Group (FIG) page
with FIG #49; Overlay and Substrate distortion, submitted by Bonnie Manno. You can send your example of unique distortion to Charlie
For discussion, visit the CLPEX.com forum FIG thread.
Updated the forum Keeping Examiners Prepared for
thread with KEPT #24; Verification - Exclusions
by Michelle Triplett. You can send your questions on
courtroom topics to Michelle Triplett:
Updated the Detail Archives
Various authors brought us replies to Charlie Parker's thread on keeping latent prints
deemed not of value for identification.
we stay in touch with talk of latent print examination at the Maryland State
Bar Association's annual meeting.
Is The Evidence Right At Your Fingertips?
Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer
June 16, 2008
OCEAN CITY — Prosecutors and defense attorneys had just closed their
arguments on the admissibility and reliability of fingerprint evidence in
criminal trials during a program here at the Maryland State Bar
Association’s annual meeting. So it was fitting that a judge was among the
first members of the audience to respond.
“Just because we’ve always done it the same way doesn’t mean we can’t
review it to see if we can do it better,” said Prince George’s County
District Judge Patti Lewis.
The judge’s verdict came at the end of spirited discussion based on a
decision last year by Judge Susan Souder to not allow fingerprint evidence
in the death penalty case of Brian Rose in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
Souder ruled such evidence was not reliable despite its use by courts for
more than 100 years.
“There was a reverberation throughout the country,” said Byron L. Warnken,
a University of Baltimore School of Law professor who served as moderator
for “Real World CSI: Does Fingerprint Evidence Meet the Frye-Reed Standard?”
sponsored by MSBA’s criminal law and practice session.
Paul B. DeWolfe, the district public defender for Montgomery County who
worked on the case, praised Souder’s decision. The examination of “latent
prints,” or prints taken from a crime scene, is not reliable and has not
been accepted by the relevant scientific community, the two tenants of
Frye-Reed, DeWolfe said. He agreed with Souder that fingerprint examiners’
own approval of the process is equivalent to fortunetellers endorsing tarot
“She studied the issue, she understood the issue, and in our humble opinion
she got it right,” he said.
But Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein called Souder’s ruling
“esoteric,” noting Rose’s appeal did not challenge the use of fingerprints
in the trial. Rosenstein’s office indicted Rose in April, taking over the
case at the request of Baltimore County prosecutors.
“It’s not based on hard science and not based on proper legal analysis,”
Wicomico County State’s Attorney Davis Ruark said Souder’s ruling was
“bizarre,” taking particular issue with the judge beginning her opinion by
discussing the death penalty.
“The law should not be different because it’s a death penalty case,” Ruark
Souder’s opinion referenced, and the panelists discussed, the case of
Brandon Mayfield, an Oregon lawyer falsely arrested in connection with the
2004 Madrid train bombings based on partial fingerprints recovered at the
scene incorrectly identified as his by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The case prompted the launch of an internal review and changes to the FBI’s
fingerprint examination process.
Patrick Kent, chief of the forensics division of the Maryland Office of the
Public Defender who worked on the Rose case, showed pictures of the partial
fingerprint next to the fingerprints of Mayfield and the Algerian national
who was actually involved with the train bombing. While the two men’s
fingerprints were noticeably different, FBI fingerprint experts chose to see
a connection between the smudge and Mayfield’s that was not there, he said.
“Latents are the ugly babies,” Kent said. “They’re left at the crime scene,
they’re slivers, they’re smudged. But to fingerprint examiners, they’re
Rosenstein countered Kent used the same method he criticized to show the
partial fingerprint was not Mayfield’s, and that while no method of
evidence-gathering is 100 percent accurate, fingerprint analysis is close.
“Infallibility has never been required in testimony in American courts,”
Rosenstein said. “The reality is, if you do [fingerprint analysis] right,
you’ll probably find a match.”
Melissa Gische, an FBI fingerprint expert not involved in either case, said
the method currently used — analysis, comparison, evaluation and
verification — is based on long-established science that an individual’s
fingerprint is “unique and persistent” from birth.
“Impressions and friction ridges can be used as a reliable means of
identification,” she said, referring to two traits of a fingerprint.
Researchers are working on a way to quantify the accuracy of fingerprints,
but until then such evidence should not be dismissed as unreliable, Gische
Both sides agreed that the cases collectively have forced investigators to
think of ways to improve their fingerprint analysis.
“It has the effect of making the FBI take another look at what they do and
do it better,” said Gerard P. Martin of Rosenberg|Martin|Greenberg LLP in
Keeping Examiners Prepared for Testimony - #24
Verification - Exclusions
by Michele Triplett, King County
The intent of this is to provide thought provoking discussion.
No claims of accuracy exist.
Why don’t you verify exclusions?
We’ve always done it this way.
That’s our office policy.
We don’t have the manpower to do this.
Erroneous exclusions don’t have the same hazards as
erroneous individualizations. Nobody will be falsely imprisoned due to an erroneous exclusion.
We verify individualizations as a quality assurance measure.
This measure isn’t needed for exclusions.
If the examiner is competent and they say it’s not
an ID then it’s not an ID.
We don’t exclude people from leaving a latent print.
Our agency either individualizes a latent print or states that no
individualization was effected.
Our agency verifies all conclusions.
Answers a and b:
“We’ve always done it this way” and “It’s our office policy” is never
a good answer. People should
know why policies exist and be able to communicate the reasons to other
A lack of manpower is never an adequate reason for not doing
something that should be done. This sounds more like an excuse than a valid reason.
Another topic for discussion regarding this answer is the use of the
term ‘ID’ vs using the term ‘individualization’ (but that’s a topic for
This is a valid reason for not verifying exclusions but examiners
should remember that erroneous exclusions can have serious effects.
If someone is erroneously excluded from leaving a latent print then
this may leave a guilty person in the community to commit more crimes.
This sounds reasonable but agencies that verify all conclusions know
that even competent examiners may not be able to orient or locate all latent
prints. The accuracy of a
conclusion is in the justification behind the conclusion and not in the
competence of the examiner.
Answers f and g:
If either of these answers are your office policy then I see nothing
wrong with these answers.
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