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Monday, March 3, 2003

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

Experts Duel Over Print - THE ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS - Feb. 26, 2003 ...during trial, Alaskan jury learns all about fingerprints, hears contradictory testimony...

Delays in Motel 6 Case Irk Judge - THE DESERET NEWS, UT - Feb. 26, 2003 ...two bloody fingerprints that the original expert testified belonged to suspect have been re-evaluated and found to belong to the victim...


Murder Case Is Reassessed- THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE - Feb.26, 2003

Warrant Issued for No-show Defendant in Motel 6 Slaying - THE CASPER STAR TRIBUNE, WY - Feb.26, 2003

Bureau Defends Fingerprint Evidence in Double Murder Trial - THE IRISH EXAMINER, IRELAND - Feb. 26, 2003 ...evidence from the Garda Technical Bureau has never been wrong, a bureau member claimed today as he was cross-examined during trial...

Fingerprints to be Checked in 6,000 pre-1985 Murders - THE LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS - Feb. 26, 2003 ...facing a backlog of  unsolved murder cases, the LAPC asked detectives to begin processing  fingerprints untouched for 17 years...

Slain Couple's Family Hopes New Fingerprint System Helps Others - THE JOURNAL TIMES, WI - Feb. 266 2003 ...police had the evidence -- a fingerprint -- but it took 2 1/2 months to analyze and match the evidence with suspect...

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.

I received the following note this week:

Hi Kasey-
As you may know by now, Lightning (Armor) has discontinued Synperonic N, a major component of Physical Developer, from its catalog. We have been scrambling around unsuccessfully trying to find an alternative source and have finally purchased a rather large quantity directly from the manufacturer. Perhaps you could notify the FP community that if Synperonic N is needed, please give me a call at (407) 831-9922.
Bob Kopec
Morris-Kopec Forensics, Inc.

I received a note from Steve Howard, who also attended the Toronto Police Services conference in Canada last weekend.  Here is what he wanted to share about the first day of the conference:

I was interested in attending this seminar on the first day, specifically for the opportunity of learning more about the Daubert issues and for an update on the continuing U.S court challenges. Although we have yet to deal with this issue here in Canada, it is always prudent to be prepared for the inevitable. In my personal experience however, I’ve been surprised at how few fellow examiners have little more than a passing knowledge of Daubert. For this reason, I was hopeful that this presentation would be enlightening and provide a good opportunity for people to learn more, and perhaps more importantly, know how to be prepared. 

The opening presentation(s) was conducted by the tag team of Kasey Wertheim, Forensic Scientist, Mississippi Crime Laboratory and Glenn Langenburg, Latent Print Examiner and Crime Scene investigator, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The topic was entitled, “Daubert / The Current Status” and both Kasey and Glenn made an excellent presentation, covering all aspects of Daubert, from the history to the present. Kasey presented what has been referred to as the ‘Daubert Card’. Although never actually using that term, he outlined the various ‘concept’ responses when addressing court challenges. Glenn covered specific case law from the Frye hearing to the Mitchell case. 

Glenn continued with a presentation that dovetailed nicely with the Daubert issues. Entitled “Defense Against The Dark Arts: Defending Against the Critics Curse”, it was an insightful look at each of the three self-proclaimed ‘experts’ who have assisted defense attorneys in challenging our science and also provided some relevant case law that will assist in meeting these challenges. 

From a personal standpoint, Kasey and Glenn were a class act! Both were extremely knowledgeable on their subject and the fact that they almost had to beg for questions at the end, I think, was a testament to that. They were excellent speakers and a joy to listen to and without doubt, did their respective agencies proud.

The afternoon session saw one of our profession’s most colourful characters take the stage for his presentation entitled “Courtroom Testimony Techniques”. Yes, I’m referring of course to Mr Ron Smith of Ron Smith & Associates Inc., Mississippi Crime Laboratory, (retired) Those of you who have seen his presentation know what I’m talking about. To those that haven’t, there are few words to describe his knowledge and fine sense of humour, which kept everyone entertained. His study of people and how they react under pressure was brought home nicely with his repertoire of ‘techniques’, which kept the audience on its toes. Now if he could just do something about that down home “accent”! To his credit though, he recognized that people sometimes do have difficulty understanding him and kindly offered to repeat himself….albeit in exactly the same way!

My thanks to Kasey, Glenn and Ron for an enjoyable day of learning and I would recommend for any of you who haven’t seen them to take advantage of any opportunity to do so. 

Steve Howard 

Last week, we looked at Part II of John Nielson's article, ARE YOU DEAD.  This article posed some excellent questions related to Daubert concepts that should get everyone thinking.  Last Monday I had the pleasure of visiting Canada for my first time (details above), and several attendees suggested that I mention how to sign up for the Weekly Detail.  I don't anticipate all 270 delegates signing up, but for those who have recently joined the CLPEX.com community from Canada: WELCOME!  John's article last week further highlights some of the concepts we covered in the Monday morning session of the conference.  I recommend checking out the Detail Archives on the website to read that and other past Details.  

This week I finally have time to address an issue I was e-mailed about approximately 3 months ago.  I was contacted by an examiner who was faced with a Frye hearing on palm prints who wanted to know what US court decisions have bridged fingerprint and palm print identification concepts.  Below is my reply:


The examiners and attorney's involved in the US v. Mitchell trial (the first challenge to the science of latent print examination) anticipated challenges moving on to palm prints and foot prints also. That is why everything that was done involved the use of the phrase "friction ridge skin" rather than "fingerprints". For example, before questioning even began on the first day of the Mitchell Daubert hearing, the prosecutor, Paul Sarmousakis, introduced Exhibit A and read for the record the premise the government operated under for the hearing: that Human friction ridges are unique and permanent, that human friction ridge skin arrangements are unique and permanent, and that individualization, that is positive identification, can result from comparisons of friction ridge skin or impressions containing a sufficient quality (clarity) and quantity of unique friction ridge detail. Dr. Babler and each of the latent print examiners testified in support of these tenants, and the judge gave judicial notice to to each of those elements at the end of the hearing. 

Dr. Babler confirmed this in his testimony on the first day of the hearing: "...the developmental process that we see in the developing hand are duplicated... on all volar skin." (Day 1, Page 64) The entire transcripts from the hearing are available  in the "Reference" section under legal issues. More Daubert information (that would relate to a Frye hearing) is located in the first few weekly "Details" archived on my website, and information about past legal challenges (including Frye hearings) are located on Ed German's site, onin.com. 

Specifically involving the legal acceptance of palm prints... there were several historical US cases that I researched during training where the courts accepted palm print evidence because the principles are the same as fingerprints. 

In State v. Kuhl (175 P. 190) the defendant was convicted of first degree murder, and questions arised regarding the testimony of two experts on fingerprint identification as it related to palm print identification. A bloody palm print of the defendant was found on an envelope, and the experts had admitted photographic enlargements of the prints and used a projectoscope (a sort of overhead projector) to illustrate their testimony. Charts were also used as the experts testified that the latent and known prints were made by the same person. There were several issues in Kuhl: 1) Was the court in error in allowing experts in fingerprint identification to testify as experts in palm print identification, 2) Was the court in error in admitting photographic enlargements of palm prints, 3) Was the court in error in allowing the use of a projectoscope, 4) Was the court in error in admitting photographs of palm prints where the experts drew lines upon them, and 5) Was the court in error in permitting the expert witness to make a positive statement as to the identity of the palm impressions. The Supreme Court of Nevada (1918) held "NO" on all counts, specifically stating that "there is but one physiological basis underlying these methods of identification: that the phenomenon by which identity is thus established exists, not only on the bulbs of the finger tips, but is continuous and coexisting on all parts and in all sections and subdivisions of the palmar surface of the human hand." The court further elaborated on the photographic demonstration by stating that the lines were placed on the charts by the experts for the purpose of clearly illustrating their testimony to the jury, their existence and significance were fully explained by the witnesses, and that the markings "in no way affected the photographs, and we discern no prejudice or injury they could have caused to the appellant."

In People v. Les, (255 NW 407) the defendant's palm print was recovered from the window sill at the point of entry of a breaking and entering scene. Before trial, the defendant contended that palm prints were not sufficient to sustain a conviction. The court ruled that the evidence was insufficient to hold the defendant for trial, quashed the information, and ordered the discharge of the defendant. The Government appealed that the trial court was in error in their ruling regarding the palm print evidence, and the Supreme Court of Michigan (1934) agreed that fingerprints and palm prints are both "considered physical characteristics" and therefore were "sufficient evidence to go to trial." The trial judge was directed to reinstate the information.

In Xanthull v. State (403 SW.2d 807) the defendant was convicted of the burglary of a lumber company. A hammer on the floor behind the counter at the crime scene had been used to pry open the cash box and the defendant's palm print was found on the hammer. As in Kuhl, the deputy (who qualified as an expert in fingerprints based on his education, training, and experience, testified that palm prints were "biologically the same as the bulbar ridges on the end of the finger". The issue on appeal involved the question "was the court in error in allowing a fingerprint expert to testify on palm prints". The court (Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas, 1966) held that because he was qualified as a fingerprint expert and fully explained the fundamental similarity between fingerprints and palm prints, the court did not err in permitting him to testify as an expert on palm prints.

If I receive a reply on how the hearing went, I will pass on the information.

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.
For discussions with an international flair, check out Dave Charlton's forum at: http://charlton97.proboards12.com/index.cgi


In addition to black powder, a white powder is used to develop latent prints. This white powder is composed of the chemical ninhydrin.


Yes, I read it again too.

UPDATES on CLPEX.com this week...

Updated the Newzroom

Updated the Detail Archives

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

Have a GREAT week!