T H E
D E T A I L
Monday, March 25, 2002
BREAKING NEWz you can
SCRO Cleared in Conclusion of
is the result of the SCRO Independent Enquiry into the work of SCRO in
connection with Shirley and David Asbury published this week:
is the conclusion of this report that no matters of misconduct or lack
of capability have taken place in the work surrounding the fingerprint
comparisons of the McKie and Asbury marks and prints.'
represents total vindication of SCRO's work, seriously affects Shirley's fight
for justice and truth and is damaging to the reputation of the fingerprint
totally exonerates SCRO, the experts and supervisors from any responsibility for
the wrong identifications and the experts and their supervisors are all being
returned to normal duty.
decision flies in the face of every piece of evidence to date and potentially
has serious implications for Shirley.
is no admission that the identifications were wrong and the report sticks to the
line that fingerprint evidence is a matter of opinion and SCRO were right and
the rest of the world wrong.
report will not be published and no information is available. The amount of
cover up still going on in this country is terrifying in its implications for
justice and fingerprinting.
you can imagine Shirley is shattered but we are not giving in. The campaign
continues here. The media are helping and we plan more high profile press
conferences in May. We desperately need help from the fingerprint profession
am going to post an update today on onin.com and ask all the experts who have
posted support over the years and any others who believe that an injustice is
being done to post their comments. In addition I will post the address and
e-mail of the Minister for Justice In Scotland and Chief Constable Andrew Brown
, Chairman of the SCRO Executive Committee and ask experts to write or e-mail
their comments to him.
Russell our MSP is preparing a draft letter for signature by respected experts
worldwide that will be passed onto the media -are you willing to consider
signing this and do you know of any other respected experts who would now add
their name to the letter? I will make the draft available as soon as possible
more can we do? We desperately need help from the Fingerprint profession.
to you and yours from Scotland,
Iain and Shirley McKie
Good morning via the "Detail," a weekly e-mail newsletter that
greets latent print examiners around the globe 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.
Last week, we summarized Judge
13 reversal of his January 7 ruling to exclude latent print examiner opinion
testimony. If you didn't get a chance to
read over the summary, it can be found in the Detail Archives. Visit
the Detail chat
board to catch up on some great comments on last week's issue, including the
feature of this week's Detail. Steve Howard sheds some light on several
aspects of Pollak's ruling, leaving you with a bit more of a positive viewpoint
than I delivered last week.
Thanks for your review of Judge Pollak’s recent reconsideration of his January
7th ruling. I thought you covered most of the significant points very well.
Personally, having read through the March 13th decision, I have to say I was
reasonably satisfied with most of what Pollak had to say. Above all, the
important thing here is that admissibility and presentation of fingerprint
evidence as we have always known it, has been upheld.
That said, I have no argument with your commentary on some of the points in
there as I also believe that we will probably need to re-evaluate some of our
answers to questions that will undoubtedly arise from this decision as we are
called upon to give our evidence and defend our ‘science’, or should that be
‘technical expertise’ as the learned judge prefers to call it. That
interpretation was indeed the classic example of bitter-sweet, as you so
Personally speaking, I don’t think we should agonize too much over that
because I believe, with all due respect, that Pollak is a product of his time
and perhaps his interpretation of what constitutes a science is at odds with
modern thinking. As long as a discipline (such as ours) follows the correct
scientific methodology from analysis through to conclusion, which ACE-V does
remarkably well, then by definition, that is a science.
From the ruling, his inability to recognize fingerprint identification as a
science is rooted in Daubert, but he goes on to say, in his reconsideration of
the ‘subjective’ aspect of the evaluation process, this part now satisfies
Daubert because the term is not as broad as he first thought. Unless I’m
missing something, this still doesn’t make sense to me. While I can understand
Pollak’s initial concern for the ‘subjective’ aspect in the evaluation
process (because it isn’t deemed ‘objective’) I don’t think he really
understands what this means within the context of the ACE-V process itself. His
comparison of fingerprint examiners to art appraisers is clear evidence of that!
These respective disciplines couldn’t be further removed from one another,
unless of course, one chose to argue that ridge formations could be considered
‘works of art’. Perhaps he confused the meaning of the word value? The
‘value’ of one’s evidence versus the dollar value placed on an item of
art? I don’t know. The significant difference here is that the methodology of
fingerprint identification does not rely on guesswork. We have to follow a
methodical scientific process in order to reach a conclusion, just like any
Another interesting theme in this ruling was Pollak’s high regard for the U.K.
fingerprint system. Having trained and worked in that system myself for several
years, I have no argument with his comments there, but I was surprised when he
said, “the techniques of North American fingerprint identification specialists
appear to have reached a level of sophistication paralleling that of their
English counterparts”. I had always believed the perception here in North
America to be quite different. If not, then at least one can take pride that
North American sophistication is now officially on an equal footing. I’d be
interested to know what percentage of the judiciary here shares that opinion.
Perhaps that explains why Pollak initially chose to (unfairly?) compare the FBI
‘standards’ to those in the U.K. I wonder if his original opinion would have
prevailed, had the U.K. not since abolished their 16-point standard.
As far as his reference to the U.K. Regina V Buckley case, I’m in agreement
that all kinds of problems might arise if judges here subscribed to that
particular ruling. However, as familiar with the U.K. court system as I was,
that ruling concerning the admissibility of evidence based on a judge’s
discretion and a minimum number of points came as no surprise.
As I recall from my previous work experience there, 8 points had often been the
unwritten minimum required to reach a ‘definitely him’ conclusion. However,
a print with 8 points or more would only be termed a partial ident, because
unless it had the requisite 16 points, it usually couldn’t be taken to court.
Some exceptions were made with one being what was described as a ‘10 and 10’
which was two adjacent fingers from the same hand, with each print having at
least 10 points in each.
On another point, the ‘characteristics’ mentioned by Lord Rooker, in my
interpretation, appear to refer to the ACE-V process and specifically
verification by two other experts. Whether Pollak expects to see the same
verification standard over here, I don’t know. The U.K system specifically
required those two verifications to be conducted by the first examiner’s
supervisor or team leader, then by the team leader’s supervisor who would then
be the one to inform the investigator.
With regard to English courts requesting that one be ‘properly
credentialed’, I wouldn't be too worried about that. I am assuming courts here
routinely cross-examine fingerprint examiners on their qualifications prior to
testimony. However, historically, U.K fingerprint experts were rarely
cross-examined on their credentials when called to give evidence at court as
they were deemed experts before they even set foot in a courtroom, so I’m
guessing that this was what he was referring to. I’ve no doubt that in future,
some form of certification and proficiency testing will be mandated by the
courts as a pre-requisite for the admissibility of fingerprint evidence. To
date, one’s level of training is the only yardstick they have in which to
measure an examiner’s level of competency (whatever that may be)
notwithstanding the absence of any minimum national standard.
So, I think your “pessimism” is more realism, as there will no doubt have to
be significant review of the way we present our evidence in the future, if only
to be able to better explain and defend our science in the courtroom. Yes,
science. I would be disappointed if the courts didn’t accept that designation
anymore. We might even need to start by re-examining our job
title/classification. If we want the courts to accept us as a practitioner of
science (scientist), we might have to ensure that our title reflects just that,
otherwise, we shouldn’t be surprised when judges view fingerprint technicians
merely as purveyors of technical knowledge, much like those trusty appraisers of
land or art!
Thanks for the great
commentary on the Detail "Chat
board" last week. As usual, it is available this week for
informal banter about the Weekly Detail, as is the onin.com forum
for other discussion.
Over the next few weeks, we
will continue to look at the Plaza ruling in more depth.
CLPEX.com this week...
No major site updates this
week. I didn't get a chance to back up my web files, so the switch to the
new server will be some time within the next two weeks. I will be
attending and presenting at the Mid-states IAI conference this week, so it will
probably be the following week before it happens.
Feel free to pass the link to The Detail along to other examiners. This is a
free service FOR latent print examiners, BY latent print examiners. There are no
copyrights on The Detail, and the website is open for all to visit.
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Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.
Have a GREAT week!