Updated the Fingerprint Interest Group (FIG) page
with FIG #66; an example of blood matrix distortion; submitted by Godlewski
of PN. You can send your example of unique distortion to
For discussion, visit the CLPEX.com forum FIG thread.
Updated the forum Keeping Examiners Prepared for
thread with KEPT #40; Analysis - Sufficiency - How much of a full print did
by Michelle Triplett. You can send your
questions on courtroom topics to Michelle Triplett:
Updated the Detail Archives
we looked at a recent article from Georgia regarding
legal challenges to fingerprints.
we look at what happens when we aren't careful with
close look-alikes from IAFIS searches. Stay tuned over the course of the
next year or two as some research addresses the issue of whether latent
print examiners should apply a stricter standard to comparisons of IAFIS
latent print search candidates than to comparisons of named suspects in
local cases. Historically we haven't treated the standard any
differently, but statistically there is a big difference between these two
LAPD blames faulty fingerprint analysis for
An audit finds shoddy work by specialists and cites two cases in
which charges had to be dropped. The total number of such instances is
unknown and officials say they lack the money to determine it.
Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Police Department has acknowledged in
a confidential report that people have been falsely implicated in crimes
because the department's fingerprint experts wrongly identified them as
The 10-page internal report, obtained by The Times, highlighted two cases in
which criminal defendants had charges against them dropped after problems
with the fingerprint analysis were exposed. LAPD officials do not know how
many other people might have been wrongly accused over the years as a result
of poor fingerprint analysis and do not have the funds to pay for a
comprehensive audit to find out, according to police records and interviews.
"This is something of extraordinary concern," said Michael Judge, public
defender for Los Angeles County. "Juries tend to accord the highest
level of confidence to fingerprint evidence. This is the type of thing
that easily could lead to innocent people being convicted."
The two cases were used by investigators to illustrate broader problems
with shoddy work and poor oversight that have plagued the department's
Latent Print Unit. Rhonda Sims-Lewis, chief of the LAPD's administrative
and technical bureau, acknowledged the findings, but said changes to the
unit's leadership and protocols were made last year after senior
officials became aware of problems.
Internal discipline investigations led to the firing of one fingerprint
analyst, who had been involved in both of the mishandled cases. Three
other analysts received suspensions, Sims-Lewis said. In addition, two
supervisors responsible for overseeing the unit were replaced, staff was
bolstered and oversight tightened, she said.
"This is very, very serious," Sims-Lewis said. "We feel very compelled
to take quick action when something like this arises. Guilty people can
be set free and innocent people can be jailed."
There are 78 forensic print specialists assigned to the unit, according
to the department's website. They are not sworn police officers but
among the hundreds of civilians who fill specialty jobs in the
department. After prints are lifted from a crime scene, the specialists
run them through automated databases to find possible matches and then
analyze those to seek a more precise match. Two other analysts are then
supposed to check the work for accuracy.
Sims-Lewis and other department officials, however, described a poorly
run operation, in which records and evidence were left lying around or
misplaced, and supervisors "were stuck in the old way of doing things."
Pressed to explain the sloppy work of the unit, Yvette Sanchez-Owens,
commanding officer of the Scientific Investigation Division, speculated
that "people were reviewing the work of friends and just rubber stamping
it without really reviewing it."
In one of the cases highlighted in the report, a man was extradited from
Alabama to face burglary charges after an analyst matched his prints to
those found at the scene. The mistake was missed by two reviewers and
was caught only when a third reviewer was preparing to testify at the
In the other example, Maria Delosange Maldonado, a pregnant hospital
technician, was charged in February 2006 with breaking into a San
Fernando Valley cellphone store. When questions were raised about the
accuracy of the print analysis, the LAPD said the prints could not be
reexamined because they had been lost. The audit characterized the
fingerprint identification in that case as "erroneous."
Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Dist. Atty Steve Cooley, said the
D.A.'s office was "looking into" the question of what, if anything,
prosecutors should do to better guard against faulty evidence making it
into a courtroom.
The LAPD's internal investigation challenges the widely held view that
forensic matches made by fingerprint experts are airtight. The authors
of the internal LAPD report recalled the infamous example of an Oregon
man who was linked through faulty fingerprint analysis by three federal
agents to the 2004 terrorist train bombings in Madrid.
Jack Weiss, chairman of the City Council's public safety committee said
there was "nothing more basic and more bread and butter than
fingerprints. You have to be able to take each one of them to the bank."
He said he will hold hearings on the issue and call fingerprint lab
employees to testify before his panel. "We want to know the extent of it
and whether it affects any other cases. We want to know how far back it
goes," he said.
Los Angeles police officials had initially planned to hire an outside
expert last year to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the unit. They
failed, however, to secure the $325,000 to $450,000 from city coffers
needed for the review. In-house auditors were used instead, but
Sims-Lewis acknowledged that they did not have the expertise required to
comprehensively examine the unit's past and current practices.
"We still want outside eyes to come in and make sure we're doing things
right," she said. The focus of the audit would be improving the
operation, officials said, but they also believe it would uncover past
errors if any had been made.
Although there is no way to be certain without the full audit, Sim-Lewis
said she was confident that faulty work by the unit had not sent an
innocent person to prison or freed someone who was guilty. Mistakes, she
said, would have been caught by experts hired by defense attorneys.
Judge, the public defender, disputed that notion and called on the city
to hire the outside auditor. "Law enforcement should take seriously this
matter by investing more in testing and studies, and by focusing more on
these people they are sending into court with very powerful evidence."
Times staff writer Harriet Ryan contributed to this report.
From the CLPEX.com Forum:
A couple of friends called and emailed me about the situation in Los
Angeles this week. I replied something like, "Look, as I understand it,
you've got one case of lost latent print lifts and one case of erroneous
identification in, what, the last ten years? Come on, LAPD has about 50
full time latent print examiners doing probably tens of thousands of
correct identifications during that time. Is there a problem? Maybe. Is
it serious? I doubt it!"
Stephen Meagher stated at a conference a few years ago that the FBI
makes an erroneous identification about 1 for every 11,000,000 correct
identifications. If you happen to be the person misidentified in that
one erroneous ident, it is a serious problem (ask Brandon Mayfield). But
in the overall scheme of things regarding reliability of forensic
evidence, it is not a big problem.
It has always been my contention that dishonesty is a far more serious
problem than erroneous identification. Cases of fabricated evidence far
outnumber cases of honest mistake. But the underlying current of this
thread is that this is a problem we in the fingerprint community have to
deal with, and that is correct. We need to take corrective action
wherever and whenever erroneous idents occur, but we also need to purge
the dishonest people from our ranks. They are the ones who do more harm.
And each of us needs to stay informed on these issues so we can answer
in court when questioned about them.
Pat A. Wertheim
- Keeping Examiners Prepared for Testimony - #40
by Michele Triplett, King County
Disclaimer: The intent of this is to
provide thought provoking discussion. No claims of accuracy exist.
Question – Sufficiency:
How much of a full print did you have?
(Stating a percentage of the physical size) 1/3 of a fully
(Stating a percentage of level two details)
I had 30 level 2 details, most rolled impressions have about 100-150
level two characteristics.
(Stating the amount of relevant information needed)
I had enough relevant information that any expert would agree with my
There are several methods to determine how much of a fully
rolled print a latent was from, and all methods will give different result.
Would you like me to explain some of these and the differences in the
This question is usually trying to imply that you had
less than a sufficient amount to do an adequate examination or to arrive at
the best conclusion.
Answer a: This measure of how
much you had can easily be misinterpreted. As an example, you can have
1/2 of a rolled impression but not have the clarity to make a conclusive
determination. You can also have 1/20th of a rolled impression and
have more than enough information to come to a conclusion. In this
case I had 1/3rd of the physical area of the rolled impression but without
stating the clarity level then it’s not clear to others if I had a
sufficient amount of information.
Answer b: Another method
would be to figure out the percentage of level two characteristics in the
latent print compared to the number of level two details in the rolled
impression. If I have 30 points out of 100 then the latent was 1/3rd of the
rolled impression. But this is misleading because we don't only use
level 2 details to make an individualization.
Answer c: Another method is
to look at how much relevant information was available. If I wanted to
find out what kind of liquid was in a glass, how much of the liquid would be
needed to come to a conclusive determination, surely not the entire
glassful. In the case with a latent print and a rolled impression, how
much is needed to have a sufficient amount of relevant information?
We need enough information in the latent print that any expert using
the same information, would arrive at the same conclusion.
Answer d: This is the best
answer because it makes an attorney commit to allowing you the time needed
to give a comprehensive answer. If an attorney allows a
full answer then someone can state all of the information in answers a, b,
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