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Monday, August 19, 2002

BREAKING NEWz you can UzE...

Australia Police Probe Woman's Death -The Los Angeles Times - Aug. 11, 2002  ... police began taking fingerprints and handprints from Norfolk Island's 1,800 residents in an effort to solve the killing of the 29-year-old...

Justice Department to Begin Fingerprinting - The San Francisco Chronicle - Aug 12, 2002 ... Sept. 11 is the starting date for a new program that will require tens of thousands of foreign visitors to be fingerprinted...

3 Slain Girls' Cases Closed -Washington Post - Aug. 14, 2002   ... powerful evidence proves that a South Carolina man abducted and killed three girls here in the mid-1990s...

'Fingerprint Killer' Takes on the Police - The Scotsman - Aug 15, 2002  ...the reputation of the Scottish Criminal Records Office suffered another massive blow yesterday when "fingerprint killer" David Asbury’s conviction for murder was quashed. ...

Experts Not Always Right - The Daily Record, UK - Aug. 15, 2002   ... the tell-tale loops, whorls, shapes and contours have been regarded as infallible evidence....

If You Didn't Kill Marion, Who Did? - The Daily Record, UK - Aug. 15, 2002   ... a vicious killer was on the loose last night after key fingerprint evidence was exposed as wrong twice in the same case....

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 reviewed some details of the IAI conference in Vegas.  This week, I am proud to announce a partnership that will enhance your weekly Detail experience.  I have been in e-mail contact with Jon Stimac from the Oregon State Police Crime Laboratory for several months, and we finally had the opportunity to meet in person at the conference in Vegas.  I have explained my vision for the website and the Detail, and Jon has been involved with researching fingerprint-related news for several years.  He has been publishing (and may continue publishing for a while) a monthly PDF "news" letter entitled "Fingerprint Stuff."  Jon's talent and motivation in this area led to an invitation to manage the "Breaking Newz" section of the Detail.  To my delight he accepted, and it is my privilege to welcome Jon for his first week on board as fingerprint Newz editor for CLPEX.com.  We will be archiving noteworthy news into a "Newz Archive" page by date, and the archived news articles themselves can be searched by subject through the CLPEX.com search engine.

I have been impressed by the number of persons who have approached me with interest regarding the Daubert concepts applied to fingerprint examination.  We know that many disciplines are under scrutiny in legal settings, not just latent prints.  Firearms recently successfully addressed their first Daubert challenge, as did footwear examination.  So we enter today's discussion of the Daubert concepts applied to latent print examination with the bigger picture in mind.

As mentioned last week, we looked at many of the Daubert issues a year ago when the debut of CLPEX.com and the Weekly Detail corresponded with post-ruling elation of the fingerprint community regarding pertinent rulings in the Mitchell trial.  Since then, we have touched on related issues as they have arisen, many of which were included in Details surrounding rulings in the Llera-Plaza case.  Interest in Daubert issues by the latent print community has peaked as examiners realize that the issues are moving from pre-trial motions and hearings INTO the court room in front of juries.  It is no longer adequate to have just limited knowledge of Daubert and it's application to fingerprints hoping that if faced with the issues you will have time to cram for the final exam.  Folks, it's exam time in courts all across the country TODAY.

Daubert concepts are being addressed during Voir Dire, before the evidence in the case is even admitted.  In this situation, you are being cross-examined on your qualifications, and if you can't articulate the fundamentals of your "alleged" science, as it would be put, then you run a great risk of embarrassment, and possibly the exclusion of your testimony of opinion in the case.  Defense attorneys have recognized the potential for a successful attack, and the attack surrounds the Daubert concepts. 

Now would be a good time to address something that has been bothering me more and more, and that is that we are tending to lump all the issues of challenge together with the Daubert criterion for admissibility of scientific evidence, and referring to the whole ball of wax as "Daubert issues."  So although we may informally refer to these as "Daubert" concepts or issues, we realize that most of what we are talking about are scientific issues revolving around the fundamental principles and methodologies of comparison and individualization, not the criterion used to gauge the admissibility of evidence.  Those issues are weighed during evaluation of the technique by a judge, but they are not true Daubert issues.  For example, the NIJ solicitation, the FBI survey, the 50KX50K study; it is important to be able to articulate what each of these are and why each is important, as well as what each of these does NOT mean, but just as important is the realization that these are not "Daubert" issues in the true sense of the word.  Rather, they are side issues that can support or refute the position of each side when arguing Daubert concepts.  So bearing this in mind, we begin a short series of Details on "Daubert Concepts," including each of the side issues you might encounter on the witness stand.

Three weeks ago, Steve Scarborough and Ray York introduced the Daubert Card, a neat concept that revolves around questions likely to appear during Daubert-related attacks in court on one side of the sheet, and your concept response on the back.  The copy Steve gave me last week in Vegas has a blank back side, recognizing that the response of each examiner will be different, based on their knowledge, training, and references they have gathered and studied.  It has been decided that giving examiners a copy of transcripts used to address these issues, or even a reference list only, is dangerous.  The examiner would be much better prepared if they formulated their own response based on the same concept.  So although we may not provide you with an exact way to address the issues, we will provide you with the "home bases" and the concept(s) used to cover each base.  This week, we take a look at THREE of 10 basic Daubert concepts, most of which have sub-concepts associated with them.  Each of the elements of the Detail three weeks ago are covered within these concepts, as are the issues many of you saw raised during the Daubert skit in Vegas.


1) Is fingerprint examination a science?

Related questions might include:
    Are you a scientist?
    Is fingerprint examination an art?
    What kind of science would you call fingerprint examination?
    What category of science does FP examination fall?
    Is FP examination under the science of ??? (chemistry, biology, genetics, etc.)
    Do you have a science degree?  Fingerprint degree?  NO DEGREE!!?  :)

Concept response: YES it is a science!  and Yes, you are a scientist!  Most agree it encompasses a combination of art and science, but mostly applied science, which includes elements of many of the pure sciences; or at least an understanding of the portions of those sciences which apply to latent print examination.  And we have looked at degree requirements recently, so we won't go there again right now. 

But you have to be able to articulate why you respond in that way.  You say fingerprint examination is a science because it is!  ACE-V follows the scientific method.  Analysis is observing the latent print.  Comparison is experimentation to prove or disprove the hypothesis/counter-hypothesis (identity/non-identity), and evaluation corresponds with conclusion.  Verification is testing the conclusion. (On the Detail Archives page, see also the Detail28 regarding LP examination corresponding with scientific method)

Latent print examiners can individualize prints because we have special knowledge of the biological sciences which translate into the fundamental principles, and we apply that knowledge through scientific method.  We also have to understand our method itself.  So latent print examination encompasses elements of the larger fields of biology, histology, anatomy, chemistry, genetics, psychology, etc...  The term "Ridgeology" was coined by David Ashbaugh to include putting that knowledge to use in the identification process. 

2) What is the error rate of fingerprint examination?

Other sub-concepts include:

    What about the 1995 CTS proficiency test scores?
    Have YOU ever made a mistake?
    What is the error rate of examiners in your department?

Concept response: distinguish which type of error you would like to address first and go for it.  I know we said we wouldn't give exact answers, but this is one case where it wouldn't hurt to say "If by error you mean practitioner error, then..." "...but if by error you mean the error rate of the methodology itself, then it is zero." 

There are several ways to address practitioner error, including bringing up the fact that you can't testify regarding the examinations of other practitioners.  You could make an educated guess, if you are in a position to do so.  And you can always bring it home to the fact that a competent examiner correctly following the ACE-V methodology won't make errors.  The bottom line is to differentiate between the two types of error and drive home the point that the error rate of the methodology is zero.  (more on error rate in the Detail1.)

The fact is, there were many people who had concerns with scores on the 1995 CTS test, including most examiners!  Upon further inquiry, some of the reasons for the poor performance that year included non-fingerprint examiners being able to take the test and agencies making photocopies of the test for distribution to their staff.  Here, It should be added that scores have drastically improved since that year, and Ken Smith, Chair of the Certification Board of the IAI, has found an approximate error rate of 2% among practitioners of accredited laboratories on the CTS test in recent years.  However, I don't know if it is a good idea to volunteer this on the stand, simply because it might be misunderstood that the error rate of the methodology was 2%.  I believe the best route to go on this issue is sticking by 0% for the methodology and unknown / not applicable error rate for practitioners, unless you actually know.

You should always be prepared to address the issue of mistakes, first by defining what is meant by mistake.  Ron Smith advises defining it yourself; for example, "If by mistake you mean have I ever misspelled a word in a report or dropped a jar of fingerprint powder, then sure I have done that... but if you mean have I ever effected an erroneous identification, then..." and hopefully, the answer is "no, I have not."  But if otherwise, then be prepared to address the issue however you feel appropriate. (in training, etc...)  And I'm not sure about how to address the issue of examiners in your department.  This would be a good topic for discussion on the message board.  Again, you could exercise the option to not testify about the examinations of others, but you and I both know you have a general idea about mistakes in your agency over the course of several years. 

3) Why have fingerprints never been proven to be unique?

    You haven't compared all fingerprints... so how do you KNOW no two fingerprints are the same?

Scientific "proof" requires an examination of every instance of something.  In order to scientifically prove that all fingerprints are unique, all fingerprints would have to be compared with all other fingerprints.  Naturally, this is impossible, so it is therefore impossible to prove the uniqueness of fingerprints.  The theory of biological uniqueness explains why no two things have ever been found to be the same.  All observations and data, including
statistical modeling and daily AFIS searching, support the use of fingerprints for personal identification.  And no two fingerprints have ever been found to be the same, which supports biological uniqueness and disproves the "counter-hypotheses" (that nature WOULD repeat itself.)

In short, the fundamental principles of permanence and uniqueness have been founded through the study of the biological sciences for over a century.  Medical researchers have confirmed the scientific basis for individualization through studies in the structure and formation of friction ridges.   *(Cite references)  I would say biological uniqueness is one of the most accepted theories in existence today.  Even the skeptics admit that nature never repeats itself.  Biological uniqueness is the reason no two fingerprints have ever been found to the be the same, and is also the reason we know they never will.

*References for research / study of permanence and individuality of friction ridge skin:
(This is YOUR Daubert Card, so get to work!  Look through Whipple, Cummins, Hale, Okajima, Babler, etc...  For more references to look up, see the following two articles: 
Ashbaugh, D., Ridgeology, Journal of Forensic Identification, 41(1), 1991
Wertheim, K., Maceo, A., Friction Ridge and Pattern Formation During the Critical Stage, Journal of Forensic Identification, 52(1), 2002

Well, there you have the first 3 Daubert Concepts and their responses.  I have started our Daubert Card and linked directly to it from the home page.  Also, the message board is back 'up', so feel free to informally chat about these.  And remember, the Daubert Card is a living, breathing document, so if you see an area you would like updated, please drop me a note.  And as you customize your answers, remember that addressing the Daubert issues in front of a JURY is the road we are on right now, so think of your responses in that light.

The onin.com forum (http://onin.com/fp/wwwbd/) is also available for more formal latent print-related discussions.


UPDATES on CLPEX.com this week...

Added the Daubert Card page.

Created the NewzRoom, the archive section for Breaking Newz you can Uze.

The remainder of our bookstore has still not made it back from Vegas yet.  I will be checking on them this week and I will update the online bookstore as soon as they arrive.

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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