Thursday, September 15, 2005

What About Fingerprints? has what I thought to be an interesting article. Some might even call it an arresting article. It is entitled, "How far should fingerprints be trusted?". I found this New Scientist page to be well worth a read. - It seems that fingerprinting has yet to be established as a reliable form of evidence.

- Quote - No one disputes that fingerprinting is a valuable and generally reliable police tool, but despite more than a century of use, fingerprinting has never been scientifically validated. This is significant because of the criteria governing the admission of scientific evidence in the US courts.

The so-called Daubert ruling introduced by the Supreme Court in 1993 set out five criteria for admitting expert testimony. One is that forensic techniques must have a known error rate, something that has never been established for fingerprinting. - End Quote -

The pressure is building to come up with some accurate numbers on the error rate of fingerprint experts. -

- Quote from article - The reliability of fingerprinting is at the center of an appeal which opened earlier this month at the Massachusetts Supreme Court in Boston. Defense lawyers acting for Terry Patterson, who was convicted of murdering an off-duty policeman in 1993, have launched a so-called "interlocutory" appeal midway through the case itself to test the admissibility of fingerprinting. Patterson's conviction relies heavily on prints found on a door of the vehicle in which the victim died. - End Quote -

A study was done by Stephen Meagher of the FBI's Latent Fingerprint Section in Quantico, Virginia in which 50,000 fingerprints were involved. It was shown that for any one of the prints to be mistaken for any other of the 49,999 prints would be 1 in 1097.

Critics said this was fine for nice clean images but the smeared and partial prints found in real life situations don't always match up neatly to archival prints of criminals. Meagher's reply, to New Scientist included the words, "This is not a study on error rate, or an effort to demonstrate what constitutes an identification,". This statement is now being used by critics to show that the '50k study' does not prove the infallibility of fingerprinting something the courts, the FBI and prosecution lawyers have claimed.

The New Scientist article also shows how some examiners were influenced to make wrong decisions concerning prints they themselves had testified about in court.


prying1 sez: I would suggest that if you are going to pull any shenagigans that you continue to wear gloves. Oh! And don't scratch your skin or drop any hairs or leave any footprints. Also watch out for hidden cameras and don't drive a getaway vehicle with a For Sale sign that has your phone number emblazoned on it.