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Monday, August 20, 2001

Welcome to the third "Detail," a weekly e-mail newsletter that greets you every Monday morning. 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.

I continue to be amazed by the response to the website and the newsletter. “The Detail” subscribers approach 100, and the hit-meter keeps ticking away as updates are added. Again, thank you for your confidence, and I always look forward to the exchange of information for the advancement of the latent print discipline.

BREAKING NEWz you can UzE...
One of the witnesses the defense was going to call at the Daubert trial was Simon Cole, a PhD who has studied fingerprints. He was prepared to attack the issues of error rate and standards in the latent print field. He has recently published a book that attacks the science of fingerprints, and is currently on a crusade to sell his book by bashing fingerprints on national radio programs, etc... The latest example is an interview on National Public Radio "Science Hour" which just aired on Friday (August 17, 2001). Colin Beavan, author of the new book FINGERPRINTS, was also on the show, and responded without hesitation to some of the claims Cole was trying to sneak by. I hate that Colin had to use some of his time on the show to address these misrepresented issues, but I was very impressed with his knowledge of the issues and willingness to confront Cole and stand up for fingerprints. Visit the "BREAKING NEWz" link at the top of the page to read more about the issues discussed in this interview, and to listen to this broadcast. If you know of any BREAKING NEWz you can UzE, be sure and write me a short e-mail so I can include the information in The Detail. Thanks to Jon Stimac in Oregon for this tidbit.

We are continuing a short series on Daubert issues. Last week we looked at Testing and Validation, and the first week we defined Error Rate. If you missed how to address these issues, they are archived above.

The issue of general acceptance of fingerprints is really a non-issue. Critics might argue that general acceptance might apply equally to such fields as astrology and astronomy. The government summed up the concept of general acceptance in one paragraph in the COMBINED REPORT TO THE COURT AND MOTIONS IN LIMINE CONCERNING FINGERPRINT EVIDENCE:

Fingerprints, and the more general use of friction ridge impressions (palms and soles), have been in use as a means to individualize since the late 1800's, and have been accepted and used in the United States courts since the early 1900's. E.g., People v. Jennings, 252 Ill. 534, 96 N.E. 1077 (1911). The FBI began using fingerprints in 1924 to maintain a national repository of criminal’s known fingerprints. In 1933, the FBI began conducting latent print examinations to support criminal investigations. Almost all developed countries today use fingerprints as a means to individualize. The underlying basis for this world-wide acceptance is that fingerprints (friction ridge arrangements) are unique and permanent. The overpowering evidence of this acceptance is that for over 100 years, there have never been found two different fingers to have the same fingerprint.

A couple of things were brought up in the Daubert hearing in Philadelphia under the category of General Acceptance that might cause some stress on the stand if you find yourself in a Daubert hearing and aren’t ready for these issues. A three-part survey was sent out by the FBI to all 50 states, Canada, and the United Kingdom. This survey was designed to provide evidence as to the general acceptance of the use of friction ridge skin to individualize. All responses confirmed the acceptance that friction ridges are unique and permanent, and that in the history of the science, there have never been two fingerprints found to be the same.

Part B of the survey involved AFIS and manual comparisons of the defendant’s fingerprints with the latent prints in the case to demonstrate uniqueness. The results were as expected; no other person or other finger was identified except those which were correct matches. Several agencies “hit” on Mitchell’s fingerprints on AFIS, but no other hits were reported. Most agencies identified both prints during the manual comparison portion of the test; however, some of the responding agencies did not. The FBI responded as they do in-house, and sent those agencies better quality enlargements demonstrating the corresponding areas, and asked for a reassessment of position. Almost all (maybe even all... I'm not sure) the agencies identified the prints from the better quality images.

In the NPR interview mentioned above, Simon Cole specifically mentions the FBI survey, and puts a horrible spin on it, saying after receiving the results, the FBI "marked dots at the points where they believed the matches were," sent them out and "asked the agencies if they would change their minds." He follows this up with, of course, "everybody changed their minds."

Some individuals, and the defense in the Daubert hearing, use the results of the survey to suggest that fingerprint examination itself is subjective. However, as Dr. Budowle pointed out during his testimony at the Daubert hearing, and as the prosecution proved in their case, there is a proven scientific foundation that gives examiners the basis for expressing an absolute opinion based upon an objective analysis, comparison, and evaluation of the evidence. The opinion is subjective, but the examination process itself is objective.

Others claim the results of part B of the survey are devastating to the reliability of fingerprint evidence. In addressing this issue at the hearing, Steve Meagher, of the FBI, emphasizes that the survey was not a scientific experiment, and he did not expect all participants in a survey of that magnitude to do exactly as they had been asked. In fact, some states did not respond to the survey at all!

The government’s Post-Daubert Hearing Memorandum reveals several reasons for the results of the survey. Comments made by agencies reveal concerns about the lack of original evidence for examination purposes, surveys not being taken seriously, examiners not having enough experience to completely evaluate the evidence, and simply “screwing up.” The entire Post-Daubert Memorandum (144 pages!) can be accessed here.

Next week we will take a look at the last issue of the Daubert series; Peer Review. It will probably be another abbreviated issue, but that is ideal timing since I will be finishing up a long week of teaching in Colorado and will need to spend some family time that weekend.

If you have questions or comments on this weeks issue, please visit the Discussion forum at ww.clpex.com. Should I invite Simon Cole to leave comments? :) I could send him a copy of this week's Detail! I think I'll do that... make sure to check out this week's message board, and respond to his comments if he dares bash fingerprints on CLPEX.com. Make sure you check out the interview.

If you have not yet signed up to receive the Weekly Detail in YOUR e-mail inbox, go ahead and join the list now so you don't miss out! Past Details are now available in the Detail Archive room, if you have missed any and want to read up, but you don’t receive an e-mail if you don’t go through the “Sign Up” process on the website.

Feel free to pass the link to The Detail along to other examiners. This is a free service BY latent print examiners, FOR latent print examiners. There are no copyrights on The Detail, and the website is open for all to visit.

Added a link to the governments post-Daubert memorandum under the Daubert section of the Library
Added a new fingerprint links page on my Links page
Added a new discussion on the message board, and invited Simon Cole to drop by and discuss why fingerprints is not a science.
Added a new discussion about this week's issue, "General Acceptance"
Thinking about making the NEWz you can UzE page a link off the main page for all recent updates

Still under Construction: a "Classic" book section with first edition copies (available for sale) of classic texts, including Galton, Faulds, Henry, Cummins / Midlo, Wilder / Wentworth, and other great titles. I will be working more on this section over the next couple of weeks. If you have duplicate copies of any of these or other fingerprint titles (like a used copy of Suspect Identities that has not been spit on or thrown across the room by a latent print examiner) ((very rare)), e-mail me; we will workout a "deal" and get them into the hands of a needy latent print examiner. :)

Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.
Have a GREAT week!


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