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Monday, July 7, 2003

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

Company Makes First Compact Fingerprint Readers - THE TAIWAN NEWS, TAIWAN - July 2, 2003 ...Taipei based manufacturer unveils a fingerprint reader that is the first compact and portable fingerprint authenticator of its kind...

Trial in 21-year-old Murder Case Scheduled - KOTA-TV, SD  - July 2, 2003 ...federal investigators reopened the case and arrested suspect after finding a match to a bloody fingerprint found at the scene...

Fingerprints On Computer - THE BEGA DISTRICT NEWS, AUSTRALIA - July 1, 2003 ...police agency now has direct access to the latest technology for recording and filing fingerprint records...

Fingerprinting Anyone Working with Kids - WREG-TV, TN - July 1, 2003 ...law that goes into effect July 1st  requires fingerprinting of individuals working with children...

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.



August 24 28, 2003



Last week, Alice Maceo brought us some thoughts on the exciting possibility of web broadcasting for the next IAI conference in St. Louis, MO, 2004.  This week, we take a look at a recent correspondence regarding standards, quality control, ASCLD-LAB, issues.  These are all things that many of us have thought of, experienced, are currently thinking about or experiencing, or will soon think about or experience!  Hopefully this will spur some discussion on the message board.  The examiner who e-mailed this question has an upcoming meeting to discuss these issues, and is interested in any feedback generated from this week's Detail.



I would appreciate your help with a couple of issues in our office regarding chain of custody and access to evidence. When evidence is received in our office and released by our office, chain of custody is documented. The issue is, exactly when does chain of custody need to be documented within our office? What are some legal questions that could result from not documenting chain of custody when evidence is given to another examiner for verification(s)?

The other issue is the storage of evidence. We lock our evidence in a secure cabinet where one lock secures the entire container. Each examiner is assigned an area within the container, but each examiner has access to the entire container. Does it matter if all three examiners have access to everyone else's case evidence? Should anyone else have access to the cabinet - i.e. a supervisor?


It sounds like you are going through the same growing pains that many agencies are currently experiencing. These are the pains associated with operating in an environment of standards and accreditation within the professional crime laboratory setting, and serving a justice system that seems to be growing more and more concerned about near 100% impeccable work product.

Now for my true feelings... (ha ha). Seriously though... these are situations being discussed in many laboratories / departments. In fact, I recently obtained my own personal lockable evidence storage cabinet in our processing lab (not in my office).
Was I happy about having my own storage space? Actually, I didn't really care. It's not that I don't trust my co-workers... and I know it's not because they don't trust me. The fact is, it was probably done for my benefit.

To answer your question directly: Yes, I am the only one with a key. What I am counting on the defense attorney asking me next year about the gun in my custody right now is: "did anyone else have access to your evidence." How would you answer that if you were in my shoes? I think you would probably agree that if your agency bought you separate storage containers, it wouldn't really be that bad. And it would sure make it easy to simply say "no" and leave off the long narrative about your co-workers.

The chain of custody issue is a little more annoying because it actually means documenting something that you may not currently document. I agree that it stinks to have to do more work. However, there is also a flip-side to this issue. Again, I am expecting the defense attorney to ask questions like "when was the evidence out of your custody and to whom did it go? Where is the proof? Is it documented?"

I'm not saying these questions wouldn't be annoying. They would be. Our agencies knows they would be. But they could also cause damage in court, and our agencies know that also. I think that the greater mindset of accountability, simple and honest answers, airtight chain of custody, standard operating procedure, etc. are all mechanisms to make our testimony in court a lot easier.

Also, it makes the chance of that murder case being dismissed because of a technicality much smaller. It would be embarassing for something like that to happen to your agency. Heck, it would embarass you also! Imagine what
it might feel like to be attacked on the stand and have to answer some of these issues honestly, without having a secure chain of custody and airtight dates on your reviews... and then for that case to be thrown out. I know, you and I could both explain everything we are currently doing on the stand. But the fact is a (I will leave the descriptive word(s) in this space for you to fill in) attorney could sure make it difficult for us to explain this without coming across in a negative way to the jury. (I was thinking 'sharp' or 'smart'. what were you thinking? :)

Another issue is exactly what would protect you when asked about case reviews. If asked the question "when did someone else have access to your evidence" and you say "during the review process", the next logical questions might include: "who, when, how long, etc." The fact is, you should already have documentation about the "who". If your reviewer also wrote the date next to their initials on your worksheet or evidence, then you would have the "when" covered. "How long" could simply be a matter of standard operating procedure, which might read something like the following: "Employees will administratively and technically reveiw cases within the same business day they are received. If longer than one day is necessary to review a case, the beginning and ending review dates will be recorded next to the initials of the reviewer." All bases suddenly seem covered. (that is a quick non-official response, not based on our SOP, and not from anything other than my experience as a case analyst. Wow... that sounds a lot like "the views represented herein do not necessarily represent the views of the agency with whom I am employed or any organization with which I am affiliated. Are we covering ourselves, or what!! :)

To answer your last question about supervisor access, I would say yes; they would probably need access at all times, but only with your knowledge after the fact. In other words, if they needed access to your cabinet, they should notify you that access was gained and the reason it was needed within a day or two, or when you returned from time away, etc. One way we do this in our laboratory is to leave the supervisor a key to our storage container in a small sealed manila envelope with our initials and date on the seal. If the supervisor breaks the seal, that is OK... it is given back to us to re-seal when notification is given regarding access. Actually, that has never happened to me... my supervisor has never had to access my storage locker. All that much easier for me to simply answer "no" in court. :)

I hope this has helped. I certainly don't agree that needless paperwork is going to get us anywhere. But I see these issues as a means to an end that I think you and I would both agree is a good end. It may seem like a battle that should be addressed, and perhaps you still feel that way. If so, then by all means fight on! However, I chose to let these issues come and go with no real kicking and screaming, just because when the time comes for a real war, I want to be well rested.

To discuss your thoughts on this issue, log on to the CLPEX.com
message board : (http://www.clpex.com/phpBB/viewforum.php?f=2)

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



This week's Funny Fingerprint Find involves five crazy nutcase American examiners who, when turned loose to attend a fingerprint conference in Ottawa, Canada, order pizza and sit around in the hotel room actually talking about fingerprint theory.


UPDATES on CLPEX.com this week...

No major updates on the site.

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

Have a GREAT week!