T H E
D E T A I L
Monday, February 24, 2003
BREAKING NEWz you can
compiled by Jon Stimac
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...
Bungled in Slaying - THE
SALT LAKE TRIBUNE - Feb. 19,
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..."
6 Defendant is Released from Jail - THE
DESERET NEWS, UT - Feb.22,
of the individuals charged with the murder of a Motel 6 night clerk, has
been released from jail on his own recognizance...
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...
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
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)
ARE YOU DEAD? (Part II)
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
FUNNY FINGERPRINT FINDS
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
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Until next Monday morning, don't work too hard or too little.
Have a GREAT week!