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Monday, February 3, 2003

BREAKING NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac

Fingerprints Put to Test - PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER - Jan 28, 2003 ...the prints - as defense experts contended at the trial and as the FBI confirmed in post-trial examination - did not match suspects hands...

Homeless Man Cleared of Murder - WPVI-TV, PA - Jan. 29, 2003 ...charges against man were dismissed after a judge ruled that a fingerprint found on a carton was not proof of the man's guilt...

Fingerprints Free Man Thought to be Suspect in 1987 Murders - THE FITCHBURG SENTINEL, MA - Jan.30, 2003 ...after state police took his fingerprints for a second time, they were forced to admit that they had arrested the wrong man...

New Look Didn't Alter Fingerprints - THE CINCINNATI POST - Jan. 30, 2003 ...twin brothers play 'cat & mouse' with police...

A 45-Year-Old Fingerprint Leads to Arrest in California Police Killings - LOS ANGELES TIMES  - Jan. 30, 2003 ...in the last two years, two developments - one a fluke, the other a forensic leap forward - brought the case back to life...

Arrest in '57 Killings Shocks Genial Handyman's Friends - LOS ANGELES TIMES - Jan. 31, 2003 ...suspect was arrested at his home after LA detectives tied him to the killings through a chance fingerprint match...

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 received an excellent Submission on the use of Rain-X to go longer without having to clean our CA tanks.  This week, we continue the excellent string of Weekly Details with the first of two Details on an issue that will be getting a lot of discussion time in the next year.  In fact, it is an issue that is already being talked about by examiners around the country, a few of which I have been in correspondence with on the topic over the last few weeks.

The issue involves several angles and several elements, each of which can be interpreted differently.  I want to use the Detail this week to get you thinking and talking about the subject, and follow up later with concept discussions from the SWGFAST meeting next week and some of the posted comments on the topic.

During discussions with several examiners last week, I was presented with the viewpoint that a latent print is either of value for individualization or it is not.  In the reports of many agencies, the word "comparison" is substituted for "individualization", so a statement might read something to the effect of "No latent prints of value for comparison purposes were developed on the item...".  This word change, however, takes on a more specific meaning (or more generalized meaning, depending on how you look at it.  'Comparison purposes' tells me that no latent prints were developed that could either be individualized or excluded as having been made by a particular source.  The issue that has become a 'hot topic' is whether there might be an instance where a latent print is developed which exhibits features that may be used for exclusion, but not individualization.

For example, let us create a realistic scenario (that has been brought up in the past) whereby a latent fingerprint on the murder weapon in the victim's blood displays a definite whorl pattern, but contains an INSUFFICIENT quality and quantity of level 2 or 3 detail to be suitable for individualization purposes.  Would you keep that impression as being "of value for comparison purposes"?  If you answered no, what about the following extension of that scenario....

The only eyewitness to the crime said the prime suspect was seen leaving the victims residence immediately after a scream, and the suspect was subsequently identified in a line-up of the 'usual suspects.'  It is going to trial in two weeks, and as you compare the prints in the case you realize that there are no whorls anywhere on the finger or palm print cards of the victim or the prime suspect.  It appears that another case of a bad eyewitness is about to send an innocent man to jail.  The question is, would you report out 'no latents of value were developed'? or would you now consider reporting out the exclusion to clear the incorrect eyewitness identification?  If you would now consider reporting an exclusion, there are two questions... 1) what about the cases you have processed in the past?  How do you know this scenario hasn't existed before?  And secondly, what happens when another suspect comes into the picture, as in the following extension of that scenario....

Because of your exclusionary report, the investigators concentrate their efforts on other leads in the case and develop a second 'prime suspect,' who displays a pattern that can NOT be excluded as being the source of the bloody impression on the murder weapon.  What do you report and testify to?  Are you prepared to defend your conclusions?

Opinions I heard last week include NOT reporting latent prints as being of value for exclusion but not individualization.  In our scenario, the exclusion of the first suspect would have never been reported.  I also heard from some that had a major problem with what would happen if they did report the exclusion.  Basically, they viewed subsequent testimony on the second 'prime suspect' as violating IAI resolution VII, which states there will be no reporting or testimony regarding 'possible' identifications.  Others believe the wording of IAI Resolution VII should have never involved the word 'possible,' but only 'probable' and 'likely'.  So the issue becomes, how would you deal with that on the stand?

I am really having to restrain myself from throwing my personal beliefs in this discussion, but I truly want you to consider these facts and think about them, discuss them, post your feedback about them, and be ready to hear the opinions of others over the next week.  

For those of you who are interested (as I was), here is the exact wording of the IAI Resolution VII which was unanimously passed in 1979:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that any member, officer or certified latent print examiner who provides oral or written reports, or gives testimony of possible, (underlined for emphasis) probable or likely friction ridge identification shall be deemed to be engaged in conduct unbecoming such member, officer or certified latent print examiner as described in Article XVII, Section 5, of the constitution of the International Association for Identification, and charges may be brought under such conditions set forth in Article XVI, Section 5, of the constitution.  If such member be a certified latent print examiner, his conduct and status shall be reconsidered by the Latent Print Certification Board..."

Several questions come directly out of this entire subject and the scenario presented above.  I would encourage you to think about these issues, and if you haven't already made up your mind, to listen to the comments of others this week and next week, and decide how you would respond to this issue if it came up in your department.  If you do have confident answers to the following questions, I would encourage you to log on and participate in one of several discussions I have created on our discussion board.  I was going to create a survey, but apparently I still have some learning to do as a webmaster... I can't even make a freeware .cgi script work.  So for this round, we will have to make use of the discussion forum.  I will try to 'get on the ball' for surveys soon.  Here are the discussions (and what the survey options would have been):

Is it even possible? 
Do you feel that it is possible to EXCLUDE an individual from a latent friction ridge skin impression that does NOT contain a sufficient quality and quantity of features for individualization?

 Yes, it is possible
 No, it is not possible
 I am not convinced either way

Resolution VII restrictive? Do you feel that the wording of IAI Resolution VII restricts an examiner from reporting and testifying to an exclusion in the scenario above?

 I don't believe that scenario is possible

Wording of conclusions: Select any of the opinions you feel are acceptable in latent print examiner testimony:

 The latent print WAS made by XXX
 The latent print WAS NOT made by XXX
 It is NOT possible that the latent print was made by XXX
 It is possible that the latent print was made by XXX
 XXX could NOT have made the latent print
 XXX could have made the latent print
 It is probable / not probable that XXX made the latent print
 It is likely / unlikely that XXX made the latent print

Should / can anything be done? Which of the following options most accurately represents your opinion

 IAI Resolution VII is worded well and should be left alone
 IAI Resolution VII is poorly worded but should be left alone
 Only the word 'possible' should be removed from IAI resolution 7
 Other modifications are necessary to IAI Resolution 7

How do you feel about discussion? I feel that discussing and polling on this subject are:

 Appropriate and welcomed
 Welcomed, but not appropriate online
 Unwelcome in any format, but necessary
 Welcomed but unnecessary in any format
 Unwelcome and unnecessary

Other issues to discuss on the CLPEX.com board and/or survey comments section: How would you defend your conclusions in court if you excluded the first prime suspect and reached an inconclusive determination on the second suspect?  Do you feel this would be difficult to deal with in court?  Do you feel it would be difficult to avoid testifying that it was 'possible' that the second suspect did or did not leave the impression?  Do you feel there is anything wrong in testifying:

    that the second suspect could have left the impression
    that it is possible that the second suspect left the impression
    that anyone could have left the impression
    that it is possible that anyone left the impression

Visit the CLPEX message board to discuss this or other fingerprint related matters: 
And as usual, the onin.com forum (http://onin.com/fp/wwwbd/) is also available for more formal latent print-related discussions.


This week's
FUNNY FINGERPRINT FIND: In case you were wondering how to "identify twin and clone fingerprints"...

"A clone has what you call a multiple ridge. A twin has a secondary ridge. Multiple ridges are normal ridges except that the ridges sticking out, curve inward forming an almost M shape. Secondary ridges only one ridge stands up and fully falls flat."


That clears things up for me!  

UPDATES on CLPEX.com this week...

I tried like crazy to get a survey form to work, but had no luck.  No time for anything else this week.  Maybe next week!

I have decided to let "Funny Fingerprint Finds" replace the BidNow site feature.  I can manage the Funny section weekly, but the BidNow item would be too time-intensive to attempt weekly.  I will still occasionally auction off unique or new fingerprint-related items, but the auctions won't necessarily be on the first Monday of every month.  As usual, I will announce them in the Detail.  If you have an item you are auctioning on Ebay, I would consider linking to your auction if you pass on the information and your name/e-mail address.  This would keep things interesting and still allow me to keep up this feature! 

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

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!  (To join this free e-mail newsletter, send a blank e-mail to: theweeklydetail-subscribe@topica.email-publisher.com )  Members may unsubscribe at any time.  If you have difficulties with the sign-up process or have been inadvertently removed from the list, e-mail me personally at kaseywertheim@aol.com and I will work things out.

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

Have a GREAT week!