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Monday, March 25, 2002

BREAKING NEWz you can UzE...

SCRO Cleared in Conclusion of Independent Review  

From Ian McKie:

Dear All,

This is the result of the SCRO Independent Enquiry into the work of SCRO in connection with Shirley and David Asbury published this week:

'It 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.'

This 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 profession.

It 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.

This decision flies in the face of every piece of evidence to date and potentially has serious implications for Shirley.

There 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.

The report will not be published and no information is available.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.

As 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 worldwide.

I 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.

Mike 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

What more can we do? We desperately need help from the Fingerprint profession.

Regards to you and yours from Scotland, 
Iain and Shirley McKie

To view the images of the latent and inked prints in these two cases, visit Ed's problem ident page.

Visit the onin board set up for commentary on the McKie and Asbury cases.  

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 Pollak's  March 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 correctly stated.

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 other science.

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!

Steve Howard


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.


UPDATES on 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.

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Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.

Have a GREAT week!


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