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Monday, May 27, 2002

BREAKING NEWz you can UzE...

Two More Anti-Fingerprinting Articles, both referencing Simon Cole
-"DO FINGERPRINTS LIE?" The New Yorker, by Michael Specter 5-27-02 issue (posted on the net on 5-20-02)  A long article, but it offers good insight in to issues which may be raised in the future.  A few highlights are offered below:   
**** "The discussion of fingerprinting is only the most visible element in a much larger debate about how forensic science fits into the legal system."
**** "Although forensic evidence has proved particularly powerful with juries, it is particularly weak as a science."
**** "'Daubert changed everything... And it is pretty clear when you look at those criteria that fingerprinting simply doesn't satisfy any of them.'''
**** "Mr. Meagher operates on a sixteenth-century notion—a Francis Bacon idea—of what science is all about.
**** Judge Pollak: "Other lawyers in fingerprint situations are now almost duty bound to raise these questions and challenges again. How could they in good faith act in any other way? This decision is certainly not the end. I think we can be certain of that."
-"THE MYTH OF FINGERPRINTS" Cornell Alumni Magazine, by Jonathan Miller, May/June, 2002 issue; The article details the $144,000 NSF Grant for Cole and Lynch.  Highlights from the article are below:
**** "Fingerprinting's infallibility may have hastened its decline in the eyes of the courts and the public."
**** Cole: "There's a growing awareness both in science and among the public that 'real' science involves uncertainty..." "The claim of absolute certainty arouses suspicion."
**** "Fingerprinting has been under the judicial microscope for years." (??)  ..."The reason it's been considered scientific up until now is because the courts have seen it that way."

Man Walks Free After 3 Years in Prison - The Jordan Times - May 24-25, 2002 -- 
The Criminal Court in Amman, in a second hearing on Thursday, acquitted a 26-year-old man of charges of murdering a couple in Amman almost eight years ago.  Ahmad Hasanat was apprehended in 2000 by police and was charged with murdering businessman Rushdi Halaweh, 46, and his wife Afaf Kassasir, 34, in their home in the Um Utheinah neighborhood in August 1994.  The case was referred to the higher court, which overturned the acquittal and asked the Criminal Court to summon experts to verify a fingerprint found at the scene of the crime and believed to belong to the defendant.  “The Criminal Court declared today that there was human interference (or tampering) with the fingerprints and decided to acquit my client,” Sharabati told The Jordan Times on Thursday.

ABFDE Daubert Workshop Quickly Approaches - (Las Vegas, June 21-23)
Andre Moenssens and Dr. Babler are presenting.  Also jurists from Pennsylvania and New York, prosecutors, defense attorneys will all be presenting with their take on the issues.  Registration information can be found on the "Daubert World" page off the "upcoming training" page of the ABFDE website.

SWGFAST Website Updated

The SWGFAST site (http://www.swgfast.org) has been updated.  I would encourage each of you to review these guidelines, especially those currently open for comment, and offer your suggestions, in writing, to the Executive Secretary of SWGFAST: Margaret Black, Orange County Sheriff-Coroner, Forensic Science Services, 320 N. Flower, Santa Ana, CA 92703, e-mail: mab@fss.co.orange.ca.us

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 were updated on the Scotland situation and voted on our favorite CLPEX.com T-shirt slogan.  Are you ready for the results!?!?!

By a very slim margin, the winner is....

except Death, Taxes, and FINGERPRINTS!

Congratulations to Tracy Saur for submitting the winning slogan!  She will receive two free t-shirts and a free year-long subscription (ha ha) to the Detail.  This week, I will be taking the slogan and CLPEX.com artwork to Designer Graphics here in Meridian, and the shirts should be ready just in time for BidNow week on Ebay!!  If you enjoy the Detail and CLPEX.com, please help support the cost of the site by purchasing a t-shirt next week.  I will offer the shirts for sale by e-mail for $20, and give you a chance to win a special, one-of-a-kind, nifty, autographed version of the shirt on Ebay next week (for those collectors, or those who simply want to make a larger donation than $20 to the website).  T-shirt funds will help with associated costs, and hopefully there will be enough to explore some additional services to make your online CLPEX.com experience even better.

The break-down percentages for votes were:

38%: Nothing in Life is Certain... Except Death, Taxes, and FINGERPRINTS!

35%:  Absolute Certainty (with a fingerprint / vodka bottle in core)  (this one will definitely be in the running next year)

7%:  Fingerprint Examiners DO IT with Great Detail

 7%:  When you Need a Lift, Call a Latent Print Examiner!

7%:  CLPEX.com... Taking Detail to the Next Level

3%:  Arches, Loops and Whorls - OH MY!

3%:  Latent Print Examiners DO IT at all 3 levels

Thank you to everyone who submitted an entry, and thank you for voting!!  I look forward to presenting a picture of the finished product design next week!...

This week we take a look at the SWGFAST drafts for review.  But first, we see that fingerprint bashing is still alive and well in the media.  If you haven't had a chance to read the two articles in the "Newz" section above, take a few minutes and see if you can pick out some attacks you haven't seen before; or a new angle to an old attack.  I would hate for you to hear about these for the first time on the witness stand.  A post on the CLPEX.com chat board by Steve Nowicki was well written and succinctly addresses one of these articles:


It seems that Dr. Simon Cole just won't give up. In the May/June 2002 issue of the Cornell Alumni Magazine, there is a length article titled "The Myth of Fingerprints". Guess who the author chose to interview?

In this article, Dr. Cole gives the same rhetoric that he has been talking about since the Pollock Decision. He even mentions the Pollock decision and how in that case the Judge ruled that fingerprint evidence could not be regarded as Scientific and that fingerprint experts could not claim that a given print was a match for one found at the crime scene.

I thought it was interesting that Dr. Cole failed to mention that Judge Pollak reversed himself.

I have already started writing a letter to the Editor of the magazine. I hope you all do the same. What I've mentioned so far is the case of the State of New York vs. James Hyatt where the Judge, the Honorable Charles Hynes, states that "Dr. Cole's basic premise that the scientific underpinning for the acceptance of fingerprint evidence by the court is suspect. Under cross examination, Dr. Cole conceded he is not a scientist in the traditional sense of the word but is a historian and a social scientist. He also indicated that he had not examined the actual fingerprints in this case and was aware a latent print examiner hired by the defense had examined such prints and found a match. Dr. Cole testified that he is not qualified to give an opinion of fingerprint comparisons and that his knowledge as to how latent fingerprints are examined and compared is minimal and obtained from professional literature. Dr. Cole conceded that his theories haven't been sufficiently tested to know whether they could be considered science but rather his opinion is based on scholarly research. Finally, Dr. Cole admitted that he has never been accepted as an expert in this area in either the State or Federal Courts and that his views were not generally accepted in the mainstream scientific community.

After Dr. Cole's testimony the court took judicial notice that fingerprint identification has long been recognized and accepted by all courts in the United States and that expert testimony concerning its use is always admissible provided the proffered witness is indeed qualified as an expert in the field."

The court went on to say that "even applying the Federal Courts Daubert Standard, what Dr. Cole has offered here is Junk Science., To take the crown away from the heavyweight champ you must decisively out score of knock him out. Going 12 rounds will just not do. What Dr. Cole has offered here is interesting but too lacking in scientific method to even bloody the field of fingerprint analysis as a generally accepted scientific discipline".

Ouch! Too bad the author of the Cornell Alumni magazine didn't hear about this case or the Pollack reversal. Its too bad that people like Dr. Cole can spout their rhetoric to anybody who will listen. I guess that is a small price to pay for a "free press". However, because of people like Dr. Cole, its up to everybody in the field of fingerprints who do an honest days work and to a honest job in the field to keep people like him in "check".

Steve Nowicki


Next, I throw out a few tidbits from the SWGFAST Drafts for comment for several reasons:  1) to get you interested in commenting on these excellent works  2) to spark discussion of these concepts and 3) to keep you thinking about the science behind what we all do.

1.  The Friction Ridge Examination Methodology draft cites 5 "fundamental principles."  Most examiners, when asked to list the fundamental principles, recite only the first two.  Take some time and think about the other three principles; discuss them with your co-workers, explore the meaning behind each, and make comments, if appropriate.  

2.  The Friction Ridge Examination Methodology draft defines Analysis as "The assessment of a friction ridge impression to determine suitability for comparison." (and goes on to list factors to be included) Is this a complete and accurate definition of Analysis?

3.  The Friction Ridge Examination Methodology draft states that "All individualizations (identifications) must be verified."  From teaching around the country, I know of more than just a few departments which employ only one examiner.  I am a strong supporter of verification, and I believe that those examiners should make every effort to have their work verified.  What are your thoughts?  Can you think of any situation where an identification may be reported without verification?

4.  The Glossary - Identification (Supplement) draft makes a distinction between a ridge characteristic in two impressions A) that do match and B) that don't match.  It defines A) as "Dissimilarity (Apparent) - Different in appearance; Non-corresponding in appearance".  It defines B) as "Discrepancy - the presence of characteristics, ridges, or marks in one impression that are lacking in another."  Should different terminology be explored for these definitions?  (i.e.. "Distortion" instead of "Apparent Dissimilarity", etc...)

I have posted a discussion on the SWGFAST Drafts for Comment at
the CLPEX chat board (http://www.clpex.com/phpBB/viewforum.php?f=2)  Feel free to give your opinions on these, or on any other elements in the SWGFAST guidelines.

And as usual, the onin.com forum (http://onin.com/fp/wwwbd/) is available for more formal discussion.

In the works for the next few weeks are:

1)  A legal brief / case review of a Florida Supreme Court reversal of a case based on another type of forensic evidence.  The case has a strong message toward the field of forensics as a whole. 

2)  (hopefully soon) Recommendations from the Forensic Fingerprint Forum held in Chicago several weeks ago, coordinated by Joe Polski. (being held up in review by attendees)

3)  An interesting case worked by Doede Rijpkema.  You would be hard-pressed to top this bizarre AFIS identification!

If you have an interesting case or an article for publication in the Detail, attach to an e-mail to kaseywertheim@aol.com

UPDATES on CLPEX.com this week...

Updated the McKie page to include a new, paraphrased version of her story.  Working on charted enlargements for this site.

Added a "Daubert Training" page to the main training page.

Updated the RSW course home pages (www.clpex.com/Training/rsw/pastrswcourses.htm) to include CLASS PICTURES!
(if you were in RSW 2 (Bettendorf, Iowa) or RSW 3 (Modesto, California) and have a better class picture than those posted, please send me a copy!  RSW 1 and RSW 4: YOU GUYS look GREAT!!  :)

Updated the Detail Archives page

Added a direct link to SWGFAST from the CLPEX.com home page

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!


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