Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
Woman charged in New Braunfels heist
San Antonio Express, TX - Jan 23, 2009
Detectives used fingerprints to identify Munoz as a suspect. A search of her home turned up evidence connected to the robbery, including cash taken from the ...
Texas crime lab wins national accreditation
Police News, CA - Jan 23, 2009
3 to start doing latent fingerprint exams, firearms and crime scene testing. On Jan. 12, the lab was certified to conduct examinations of tool marks at ...
Bank robber targets
Stouffville four times.
York Region Era
Banner, Canada -
Jan 21, 2009
"Obviously, his DNA is
not in the DNA database
and his fingerprints are
not on file. So, we are
dealing with somebody
that does not appear to
have come into ...
Triple murder: Coconut
was used to stun victims
Times of India, India -
Jan 21, 2009
said that before
could arrive at the
spot, many neighbours
and relatives had
entered the house,
Expert: Girls' blood was on Harris' hands, shoe
Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, IA - Jan 23, 2009
Another expert testified two of Harris' fingerprints were found on the knife. Evans, who is with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations crime lab, ...
Fingerprint test may catch US killer
BBC News, UK - Jan 22, 2009
A video on Dr. Bond's latent print development technique involving the application of an electric charge and running ceramic beads with fine black powder over small metal surfaces ...
Beach burglar found guilty
Monticello Herald Journal, IN - Jan 21, 2009
"It's not often we have a confession, we have a security video, we have fingerprint evidence and we have DNA evidence," said White County Deputy Prosecutor ... forensic scientist and expert witness Christina Peters told jurors that an opened package of screwdrivers recovered from the back storage room of the building supplied ample fingerprint evidence to positively match with fingerprints taken from Hickey at the White County Jail....
Recent CLPEX Posting Activity
containing new posts
Moderated by Steve Everist and Charlie Parker
Moderated by Steve Everist
on Tue Jan 20,
2009 11:13 am
on Sat Jan 24,
2009 9:45 am
on Tue Jan 13,
2009 1:34 pm
on Thu Jan 22,
2009 9:33 am
Pro's and Con's
of Using Case
on Mon Jan 19,
2009 12:35 am
on Wed Jan 21,
2009 11:52 am
Fri Dec 05, 2008
on Wed Jan 21,
2009 3:45 am
on Thu Jan 08,
2009 10:53 am
on Tue Jan 20,
2009 12:20 am
IAI Conference Topics -
Tampa Bay, Florida - 2009:
Moderator: Steve Everist
No new posts
Documentation issues as they apply to latent prints
Moderator: Charles Parker
No new posts
Historical topics related to latent print examination
Moderator: Charles Parker
No new posts
Updated the Fingerprint Interest Group (FIG) page
with FIG #78; small size matches, from Tenneyuque, TX. You can send your example
(anonymously if you desire) of unique distortion through
For discussion, visit the CLPEX.com forum FIG thread.
Updated the Detail Archives
We looked at relevant
portions of Joe Polski's January IAI Update.
we look at a relevant Crime Lab Report that
discusses latent print examination. Although the report seems a bit
one-sided and aggressive, they do bring up some points of interest to
readers of the Detail this week.
Forensic Pattern Identification: A
history lesson, and some advice, for Saks and Faigman
by Crime Lab Report[http://arjournals.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.lawsocsci.4.110707.172303]
January 21, 2009
Michael J. Saks of Arizona State University and David L. Faigman
of the University of California at San Francisco have become
increasingly effective advocates for what they argue is a better
brand of forensic science. From their perspective, the pattern
identification disciplines such as those involving the
identification of latent prints, firearms & toolmarks, and shoe
impressions do not meet the standards to which they argue real
science must conform.
A blistering critique titled Failed Forensics: How Forensic
Science Lost its Way and How it Might Yet Find It, was published
by Saks and Faigman in July 2008 in the Annual Review of Law and
In their words, pattern identification disciplines "have little
or no basis in actual science. They neither borrow from
established science nor systematically test their hypotheses."
As a courtesy to our readers, here is a quick peek at some of
the claims that appeared in the aforementioned article:
- "The nonscience forensic sciences....are scientific failures
in the sense that science...played little more than a rhetorical
part in the development of these fields."
- "Absent any testing that can be replicated by other
researchers and independently verified by courts, forensic
identification science is not really a science at all."
- "Although knowledge from organic chemistry can be brought to
bear in identifying what drugs, poisons, or medications might be
discovered in a corpse found at a crime scene, what knowledge
from conventional sciences like biology or chemistry or physics
support the notion of individualization."
- "Most of the forensic identification sciences, however, missed
the school bus. They never joined the university system.....They
became an instrument of law enforcement, largely controlled by
police technicians and their superiors."
- "If forensic individualization science had emerged from normal
science, its approach and its techniques probably would resemble
DNA typing, with its measurement of attributes, sampling of
variation in populations, and statistical bases."
In the better world that Saks and Faigman envision, "the
underlying assumptions of forensic identification would be
subjected to intense questioning and empirical testing. In the
course of this work, researchers would report what they tested,
how they tested it, and what they found. Their results—whether
good, bad, or indifferent—would be reported with equal candor."
Crime Lab Report is troubled by Professors Saks' and Faigman's
failure to do due diligence in their review of the available
literature. If they are unhappy with the fact that they could
not find the evidence of research and scholarly review that they
would expect, we would politely argue that they should have
looked a bit harder. The evidence they seek cannot be found in
the New York Times, legal journals, or papers written by
misguided academicians who have joined the chorus of forensic
science critics hoping to bring attention to themselves and
In the better world that we envision, Saks and Faigman would
have practiced what they preach. They would have referenced any
one of the numerous papers published over the last several
decades in the Journal of Forensic Identification or the Journal
of the Association of Firearm & Toolmark Examiners. Perhaps we
would have seen a mention of groundbreaking studies in firearm
identification such as the one conducted by David Brundage and
recently repeated by Dr. James Hamby, which will show an
impressively low rate of error among several hundred firearm
examiners tested from multiple countries worldwide.
If Saks and Faigman had done their due diligence, they might
have mentioned the extensive fingerprint and biometric research
conducted by Lockheed Martin. Maybe they would have educated
their readers about the high-tech security systems that are
based on the biometric reading of friction-ridge patterns – not
to mention the underlying research and development that was
necessary to bring these systems to market. These technologies
are based on the same principles that undergird the work of
reputable fingerprint examiners around the world.
Finally, even the slightest bit of effort would have allowed
Saks and Faigman to find and summarize the groundbreaking work
sponsored by the Midwest Forensic Resource Center (MFRC) at the
Ames Laboratory, which is operated for the U.S. Department of
Energy by Iowa State University. Research investigators
including Christophe Champod at the University of Lausanne in
Switzerland are systematically invalidating claims by critics,
including Michael Saks, that contextual bias in latent print
verifications tends to corrupt the results of forensic
In fact, it appears that the research may show the exact
opposite to be true. According to a research and development
program summary published by the MFRC in October 2008:
“…fingerprint experts under the biasing conditions provided
significantly fewer definitive and erroneous conclusions than
the control group. They tended to provide opinions that were
“Novice participants were more influenced by the bias conditions
and did tend to make incorrect judgments, especially when
prompted towards an incorrect response by the bias prompt. This
was not the case with the fingerprint experts.”
The results of this research have been presented at national and
international conferences. Therefore, Crime Lab Report can only
speculate why Saks and Faigman either missed it entirely or
simply did not follow their own advice when they argued that
good research must "maximize the contribution of the phenomenon
under scrutiny and minimize the contribution of expectations and
In our view, Saks and Faigman are simply guilty of using their
resources and academic affiliations to promote social changes
despite overwhelming factual evidence that invalidates their
This kind of behavior is not research nor science. It is
The public suffers immeasurably when activism is fraudulently
packaged and presented as scholarly research. But the trend will
continue if more qualified professionals and professional
organizations aren't willing to take the time or risk to
vigorously challenge it.
Crime Lab Report's managing editors are aware that they too have
been labeled as activists by some who disagree with their point
of view. But there is a difference. Crime Lab Report does not
prioritize the promotion of specific changes. It promotes the
dissemination of accurate information about forensic science and
is willing to accept whatever changes come as a result.
That being said, we have a responsibility to acknowledge that
Saks and Faigman offer a perspective that has some intellectual
and scientific value; we will address this in a moment.
In the meantime, we would like to offer Saks, Faigman, and other
commentators a few valuable lessons that we hope will shape
their thinking about disciplines practiced in forensic testing
1. If DNA analysts could observe and compare DNA with their own
eyes they would do it. Examiners of latent prints, firearm
evidence, and toolmarks are fortunate because they can actually
observe the evidence in question. They can see the ridge detail
of a fingerprint and they can see the striae and impressions on
fired bullets and cartridge cases. They don't need instrumental
data to tell them what they are looking at. They can see it.
They can report it. They can even photograph it. Even better,
the analytical processes in these disciplines rarely require
them to consume evidence, which makes it available for others to
review at a later time.
2. There is no such thing as a purely objective science. All
science requires that imperfect human beings draw conclusions
about what they see and measure. DNA and chemistry are no
exceptions. Even in mathematics, commonly described as the only
pure science, calculations must be applied to real world
problems using careful interpretation and professional judgment.
When all subjectivity is eliminated from an endeavor, science is
no longer needed because there are no interpretations to govern.
Without interpretation, there is no science.
3. Universities do not have a monopoly on science. Science does
not require the control and oversight of universities as Saks
and Faigman repeatedly emphasized. While universities are highly
regarded for their expertise and resources, their focus is more
often drawn toward projects that bring notoriety and/or funding.
Science is, and should be, a very inclusive institution that
avails itself to any number of people seeking to solve any
number of problems. Its fundamental tenets demand that knowledge
be gathered in a controlled and systematic way. Then, when it
comes time to apply this knowledge, practitioners must exercise
professionalism, caution, and self-restraint so that they do not
stray beyond what the accumulated knowledge can justify. The
forensic laboratory disciplines are very young when compared to
other fields. But as long as they continue to advance and
provide knowledge that improves the human condition, they are
traveling successfully on the path we call science.
4. Until recently, there was no economic justification for
universities to invest in forensic research on a large
programmatic scale. It wasn't until the early 1960s that
epidemic increases in crime necessitated the creation of the
large network of crime laboratories that we know today.
Furthermore, many of the legal decisions issued by the United
States Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren during the
1950s and 1960s placed an increased emphasis on scientific
evidence and a decreased emphasis on information gathered
exclusively from police interrogations and suspect confessions.
Eventually, with the dawn of the 21st century and demand for
services at all-time highs, forensic science funding became more
widespread and therefore attracted the attention of many
universities (and critics) that had little prior interest in the
5. The history of pattern identification and uniqueness is
rooted solidly in academics. The most famous pioneers of the
pattern identification disciplines had strong academic
backgrounds. For example, Calvin Goddard, regarded as the father
of firearm identification, was a medical doctor and professor at
Northwestern University. He was also the military editor for the
Another pioneer in the forensic identification of firearms, Dr.
J. Howard Matthews, worked for nearly forty years in the field.
Matthews obtained his Master's and Ph.D. from Harvard and served
as a professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin for
over thirty years. He was a fellow of the American Association
for the Advancement of Science and one of the founders of the
professional chemical fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma. His classic
three-volume treatise, Firearms Identification, was the largest
single source of information on firearms identification ever
Finally, Sir Francis Galton, a brilliant statistician who
demonstrated the uniqueness and permanence of fingerprints,
conducted research at Trinity College and the
University of Cambridge. He was instrumental in developing
methods for studying variations in the human population, which
ultimately fueled the growth of latent print identification as
we know it.
6. The innocent are protected by the pattern identification
disciplines. If allowed to go unchecked, Saks’ and Faigman’s
zeal for activism would actually harm the innocent. Firearm
examiners, for example, frequently identify firearms that were
not used in the commission of crimes. Similarly, latent print
examiners are more likely to exclude individuals as viable
suspects than to include them. Therefore, the tendency of
activists to portray forensic science as being reserved for the
demonstration of guilt ignores the value of pattern evidence in
preventing the wrongful arrest and/or conviction of innocent
So here are the facts. Disciplines such as latent print
identification and firearm & toolmark identification are
reliable, valid, and useful sciences. They are bodies of
knowledge and applied methods that have developed over a long
period of time during which many competent researchers attempted
to falsify their underlying hypotheses and failed.
Certainly, continuing research and improvement must be a
constant force in the evolution of all forensic disciplines. But
critics who have committed themselves to lowering public
confidence in our criminal justice system are choosing to ignore
compelling evidence at the expense of public safety. For this
alone their tactics and rhetoric should be repudiated.
Saks and Faigman complain that there is insufficient research to
support the conclusions rendered by pattern identification
experts. Then why can’t they present research (preferably that
which meets their stated standards of validity) that
demonstrates such conclusions to be unreliable?
Because it doesn't exist.
When the proper methods are used and the appropriate
quality-assurance checks are employed, the subsequent results in
the pattern identification disciplines can be reported with a
degree of confidence that makes them useful to the criminal
This leads us into what we believe is the real issue that Saks
and Faigman are trying to address but are too distracted by
their own biases and expectations to take notice of.
Crime Lab Report believes that the single most serious technical
problem in forensic testing laboratories today is not invalid
methods nor lack of research. It is poorly and ambiguously
worded conclusions that leave laypersons with an incomplete or
confused understanding of what the results actually mean.
This problem has nothing to do with the validity or
admissibility of a science and can often be mitigated with some
simple questioning. But it does represent a sort of malpractice
that should not be tolerated by the forensic laboratory
community nor its stakeholders.
In the forensic testing sciences, a particularly heavy burden is
placed on practitioners to report clear and complete conclusions
that are unlikely to be misconstrued. If the wrong words are
used or if poor writing skills preclude the reader from
understanding the meaning of a testing report, even the most
reliable science can be made to look suspicious or even
Too often, laboratory directors and quality-control managers
struggling with overflowing backlogs and shoestring budgets
don't provide solid training to scientists in the areas of
courtroom testimony and technical writing. Other labs are simply
hesitant to change the status quo and prefer to stick with the
language to which they have become accustomed. As a result, they
inappropriately prioritize the preservation of tradition at the
expense of scientific clarity.
Perhaps evidenced by the criticisms of Saks and Faigman, these
weaknesses seem to bear heavily on practitioners in the pattern
identification disciplines which necessarily rely upon direct
observation instead of instrumental analysis. Pattern
identification experts would be wise to carefully review and
standardize the wording of their conclusions to eliminate
ambiguity and maximize scientific value. We believe the right
changes would drastically empower these embattled disciplines
and better serve their stakeholders.
The forensic science community has worked tirelessly and
successfully to improve its administrative and technical
practices through accreditation, certification, and more
comprehensive methods for managing quality. We know this
progress will continue. Crime Lab Report believes, however, that
better and more consistent wording of conclusions is a new
frontier that forensic practitioners will embark on in the next
several years. By doing so, they will make it harder for critics
like Saks and Faigman to confuse weak communication skills for
We would like to believe that Michael Saks and David Faigman are
intelligent men who want our criminal justice system to be
accurate and fair. But their publications reveal a systemic
ignorance and carelessness that will only inhibit their ability
to make a positive and lasting impact on the criminal justice
It's up to them to decide if they want to be activists or
We advise the latter.
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