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Monday, February 24, 2003

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

Motel 6 Fingerprints Not Defendant's - THE DESERET NEWS, UT  - Feb. 19, 2003 ...a new examination of fingerprints found at the crime scene found the prints match the victim, not suspect...

Evidence Bungled in Slaying - THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE - Feb. 19, 2003 "...the change in the status of the fingerprint evidence in case is significant, but we do not intend at this time to dismiss any of the charges..."

Motel 6 Defendant is Released from Jail - THE DESERET NEWS, UT - Feb.22, 2003 ...one of the individuals charged with the murder of a Motel 6 night clerk, has been released from jail on his own recognizance...

LAPD Has Fingerprints From 6,000 Unsolved Murders - THE MERCURY NEWS, CA - Feb.10, 2003 ...agency has failed to submit fingerprints from 6,000 unsolved killings to an FBI computer database recently used to help solve a 45-year-old double murder...

Sixth-Grader Wins Science Project Prize - THE FREMONT TRIBUNE, NE - Feb. 19, 2003 ...after reading about fingerprints, student was curious to see if children have the same fingerprint characteristics as their parents...

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.

Well, the last couple of weeks on our ProBoards message board has been weird.  Several of you have reported that your entire threads have disappeared and reappeared again days later, or they open from home but not at work.  I noticed several of the threads start with a blank message leading me to believe they have been lost from the ProBoards server.  I apologize for the problems, but it has come to the point where apology is not enough.  So over the last week, I purchased and installed a new CLPEX.com message board system.  This has been installed directly on my server within my website, so there are no annoying pop-up ads to deal with, and it seems to load the pages faster.  I chose a board with the same over-all 'informal' style, so it is appears more like a chat board than a forum.  I will be deleting messages older than 60 days on a regular basis, so you don't have to worry about something you say today lingering around indefinitely on my website.  (Realize, of course, that the posts are in the public domain and as such, they may be viewed or copied and retained by anyone with internet access during that 60 day period.)  All old links within my website have been updated to point to the new board.  If there is a 'thread' from the old board that you wish to copy and paste into the new board, that is fine.  I will ask that you be sure to copy the posting information with the message itself, and to try to copy/paste the entire threaded replies so that context information is not lost.  I have done this with several of the more active threads over the last week, and they are available for continued discussion as well as serving as an example of how an entire thread can be brought over from the old board.  There has been some recent activity on the subject of exclusion but not individualization, the levels of detail, and more.  I wish I could copy all the discussions over, but figuring out the new board system installation and updating the links has taken up most of my CLPEX.com time this week.  I know you guys and gals will understand.  I also wanted to thank Travis from the 9VoltBBS board company, as he was very helpful with the CGI install on my server.  In fact, he even helped me set up a new survey CGI script that will allow us to participate in multiple-question surveys in the very near future.  I plan on a big debut with the 2003 CLPEX.com T-shirt survey.  More details on that in the next few weeks.

While I was checking on the board system, I also upgraded to a larger hosting account.  I can now host about 3 times more information on my website.  I have taken this opportunity to post the remainder of the Mitchell information that Glenn Langenburg has made available, and in doing so I updated the Mitchell page of the site.  All the transcripts and most of the motions and responses are now available to view and/or print from the Mitchell page, which is linked to from the home page (on the left near the bottom) and the "legal" section of the Reference page.  Over the next week I will be adding some additional reference information I have received, and I will update you about that next Monday.

Last week, we finished out a two-part series on inconclusive examinations.  This week, we finish up with part II of John Nielson's article "ARE YOU DEAD YET?"  Last October, this article was slated for publication in the JFI, so when part I appeared in the Detail63 I held off on publishing the remainder of the article until after it appeared in the JFI.  SO... without further adieu, here is John Nielson with the second half of his article!  (If you didn't read the first part, I would suggest you return to the Detail Archives on the website and read Part I first)


Fifteen years ago I was serving as Editor of the Journal of Forensic Identification. I received an unsolicited piece from a non-member more suited for True Detective or The National Enquirer. It was titled “Are you the criminal type? Take this test and find out.” One function of editor is to act as gatekeeper. I can assure you that on that day the gates were locked and barred. But I am drawn to the concept and format as I look to the future the profession. 

I humbly submit the following “test” as an aid to evaluate your future in the latent print identification field.

Are you dead? Take this test and find out:

1. Do you conduct technical operations under clearly defined policies and procedures? If you can’t show a binder (or electronic file), grab a nail.
2. Do you know what a peer review journal is and why it is considered important? If not, grab a nail.
3. Do you regularly read any peer review journals? If not, grab a nail.
4. Do you participate in field-related continuing education? If not, grab a nail.
5. Are you a member of any professional associations? If not, grab a nail.
6. Do you see a need for requiring that future trainees possess at least a bachelor’s degree with significant science credits? If not, grab a nail.
7. Can you explain error rates and their relevance to your testimony? If not, grab a nail.
8. Do you know how to construct a scientifically defensible validation study? If not, grab a nail.
9. In 30 seconds, can you articulate the reason for and value of validation studies? If not, grab a nail.
10. Can you name the last two validation studies your department has conducted in the area of latent prints? If not, grab a nail.
11. Do you keep equipment maintenance logs? If not, grab a nail.
12. Do you participate in regular, structured proficiency testing? If not, grab a nail.
13. Are you certified as a Latent Print Examiner? If not, grab a nail.
14. Do you know what SWGFAST is? If not, grab a nail.
15. Do you know how often they meet? If not, grab a nail.
16. Is your organization implementing SWGFAST guidelines? If not, grab a nail.
17. Do you think current SWGFAST guidelines are “over the top” and are already too restrictive? If you do, grab a nail.
18. Right now, without looking, do you know what “A” of ACE-V stands for? If not, grab a nail.
19. Can you articulate the same for the remaining letters in the ACE-V acronym? If not, grab a nail.
20. In (and for) three minutes can you clearly explain the premises and process of the ACE-V method? If not, grab a handful of nails—and if you have a nail puller, throw it away.
21. How many levels of ridge detail does ACE-V posit? Which level is most commonly used to affect fingerprint identifications? If you don’t know, grab a nail.
22. If you are not currently utilizing ACE-V, can you cogently explain what methodology you are using and why you find it superior? If not, grab a nail.

How many nails did you accumulate? Did you know the JFI is a peer review journal?

Those are nails for your coffin. Examine documents from Mitchell, Llera-Plaza, and other Daubert hearings. Even if defense arguments are permanently rendered powerless—and that is doubtful—one suspects that prosecution arguments will be held up as a de facto standard. Within only a few years, most if not all of the above issues will be raised during voir dire or vigorous cross-examination by savvy counsel. Whether you testify in a Frye or Daubert court, the attacks will be inexorable until it is clear that they are futile. They will be futile only when they are fruitless. They will be fruitless only when the witness displays a command of the issues raised.

Although it’s purely speculation, one wonders if part of the basis for Judge Pollak’s ruling in Llera-Plaza was that he had seen one too many fingerprint “examiners” whose breath and depth of knowledge was, “hey, no two snow flakes are the same, leave me alone.” We are each the sum or our experience and one assumes Judge Pollak had to find some degree of identification with defense arguments to assent to them. And there was the curious statement in the reconsideration decision implying admiration for the knowledge and intellectual savvy of the lead FBI witness, Steve Meagher.

Times change. What may have been acceptable in the 1960’s was outdated in the 1970’s and laughable by the 1980’s. Cutting edge ten years ago was Microsoft® Windows® 3.0. How much has society changed in 20 years? Consider the following. 
People born in 1980—college graduates, perhaps working for you: 
• never had a Polio shot, and likely, do not know what it is.
• have no idea what a pull top can looks like.
• may never have heard of an 8-track, and chances are they've never heard or seen one. 
• Atari pre-dates them, as do vinyl albums. The expression “you sound like a broken record” might mean nothing to them.
• the Tonight Show has always been with Jay Leno.
• somebody named George Bush has been on every national ticket, except one, since they were born.
• a “45” is a gun, not a record with a large hole in the center.

What may have been acceptable practice and knowledge for a latent examiner in 1970 or 1980 is no longer acceptable. We have “progressed” to demand a higher degree of sophistication in every facet of society. Simon Cole’s book was published by Harvard Press, no slouch institution. We may disagree with some—or many—of his premises. But as a profession, we need to be ready to enter into dialog to rebut and defend our understanding, not ignore him and hope he goes away. We also need to respond to and reflect changing societal expectations. Policing has changed radically over the last 30 years, has the practice of Identification units changed as substantively? 

After State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson, a new adjective came into the lexicon: to be Funged, referring to an excruciating cross-examination/demolition, as was inflicted upon an LAPD crime scene investigator. Would you like your name similarly associated with fingerprints? 

In the above evaluation, you may have picked up more than a few nails. Does fighting the bureaucracy wars, studying, and implementing new concepts sound like too much effort? You may not care if the science suffers. But many of us passionately do care. Hop in your coffin, apply the lid, and let those who see a bright—and changing—future get on with it. 

John P. Nielson

Revised 4-6-2002 (to reflect Pollak reconsideration decision)

The statements and opinions contained herein are solely those of the author 
and do not purport to reflect the position or opinion of his employer.

I anticipate some more excellent discussion on the NEW (!) CLPEX message board this week.  I encourage everyone to join in on these informal discussions.
And as usual, the onin.com forum (http://onin.com/fp/wwwbd/) is also available for more formal latent print-related discussions.


"Gentian violet or crystal violet is used to stain nonliving epidermal cells or perspiration that has been left on almost any type of surface. Tape is used to remove whatever might be present from the surface to be sampled. It is then run through the solution of gentian violet."


So THAT's how you use Gentian Violet.  I've got it now.

UPDATES on CLPEX.com this week...

Updated the Newzroom

Updated the Detail Archives

Updated the Mitchell page

Posted the remainder of the Critics (legal) information

Created a new Message Board

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!