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Monday, October 27, 2003

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

Georgia Decides Against Crime Database -ACCESS NORTH GEORGIA - Oct. 21, 2003 ...state will not join a crime database that tracks personal details, citing cost and privacy concerns...

Remains Found By Hunters Identified As Suicide - BEND.COM, OR - Oct. 18, 2003 ...human remains found by two hunters have been identified as a 33-year-old  who apparently committed suicide 15 months ago...

Thumbprint Leads To Man's Conviction - DAYTONA DAILY NEWS, OH - Oct.17, 2003 ...a thumbprint on a hand-drawn diagram at the aborted robbery of a store led to a Dayton man's conviction...

Scientific Sleuths - FT. WORTH STAR TELEGRAM, TX - Oct. 17, 2003 ...criminal investigation shows, such as the popular CSI, and Court TV, are generating interest in the sciences...

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.


Check out the slightly revised CLPEX.com home page!


Last week, we looked at a written opinion from U.S. District Judge Ralph R. Beistline regarding a motion to exclude fingerprint evidence in the District of Alaska.   This week, Bill Leo brings us the result of a very recent Frye hearing in California.


In the continuing attacks on friction skin evidence, Simon Cole, who is now an Assistant Professor of Criminology at the University of California at Irvine was once again offered by the defense as an expert on the scientific reliability of friction skin evidence. The trial took place in Los Angeles Superior Court and ended with convictions on October 2, 2003. At the beginning of the trial for armed robbery, a written motion to exclude fingerprint evidence under Frye (California does not acknowledge the Daubert Federal standard) was filed. The prosecution, (Deputy District Attorney Garrett Worchell), filed a written response and Judge Harvey Giss denied the motion to suppress the fingerprint evidence. It should be noted that information from Ed German’s web site on Daubert provided assistance in the preparation of the written response to the defense motion.

The fact that Cole would be called as a defense witness was also disclosed at the beginning of the trial. Based on this information I was requested to provide rebuttal testimony if and when Cole was allowed to testify.

During the trial I was allowed to remain in the courtroom and monitor the testimony of Forensic Print Specialist II Michael Ames of the Los Angeles Police Department. Ames testified to the identification of a latent print found at one of the robbery scenes.

During the defense portion of the trial, Cole was called as a witness and an evidence hearing (402 hearing) was held outside the presence of the jury. The hearing was to determine if Cole would be allowed to testify and if allowed to testify, what limitations would be placed on his testimony. Prior to the hearing, I had provided DDA Worchell with questions to ask Cole during the examination. I also was seated at the counsel table where I could monitor Cole’s testimony during the hearing and provide advice to the prosecutor if needed.

Judge Giss opened by saying that he would allow just about any type of questions during the hearing. Judge Giss stated his reason for this was because he wanted to have a thorough understanding of Cole’s qualifications and his positions on any question that he could possibly be asked during testimony before the jury. In fact, at times during the hearing Cole was allowed to continue talking about a subject rather than just answer questions.

Cole testified that there was no scientific research to support that all areas of friction skin were unique, but that he “felt” fingerprints probably were unique. He stated that the reason fingerprint evidence has never been sufficiently challenged in court is because in the early 1900's, the courts were not as sophisticated as they are today. He testified about the results of the 1995 CTS proficiency tests and the identification error that took place on the East Coast which was reported on “60 Minutes”.

One of the most interesting questions came from the Judge near the end of the hearing. Judge Giss asked Cole for his opinion regarding what he felt would make fingerprint evidence scientifically acceptable. Cole stated that a “matrix” would have to be created by taking a large number of “known latent prints” of varying levels of difficulty and have them compared with the “known exemplars” to see if fingerprint examiners could really make identifications of partial prints with accuracy. A number of latent print examiners were present to here this startling news. Comments included, “Cole just described how we train new latent print examiners”. When Cole was asked if he was aware of Galton’s statistical study supporting the uniqueness of fingerprints, Cole responded that he was and believed Galton concluded that the chance of a duplicate fingerprint was one in four.

At the conclusion of the approximately two hour hearing, Judge Giss ruled that Cole would be allowed to testify before the jury with limitations. (This was the first time any court had allowed Cole to testify before a jury.) Judge Giss said his ruling was partially based on a recent appellate ruling that overturned a lower court for not allowing an expert in another field to testify to the reliability of that evidence.

Cole was limited to testify only to his opinions as to the reliability of fingerprint evidence and the scientific research of fingerprint evidence. Cole would not be allowed to testify about the CTS tests or errors made by other examiners in other cases because the qualifications of those people were not known. The Judge also correctly pointed out that the defense was not offering any experts to testify that an error or misidentification had occurred in this case. (It should be noted that at least two real fingerprint experts were also hired by the defense and had reviewed the fingerprint evidence in this case, but were not offered as experts at the trial.)

During the trial before the jury, Cole revised his statement that there was no scientific research to support that all areas of friction skin was unique. He now stated that the research was not sufficient to support what we say we can do. This modification may have been because Cole saw me sitting in the courtroom with a stack of books that included Galton’s Finger Prints, Wentworth and Wilder’s Personal Identification, and Cummins and Midlo’s Finger Prints, Palms and Soles. Cole was asked during cross examination — Are you aware that the matrix you described was already being used and that it is a common way fingerprint examiners are trained? Cole testified that because these training programs have not been reviewed by scientists, they would not be a valid test.

I was the last witness called during the trial and was also limited in my testimony. I testified to some of the scientific research into the formation of friction skin and the one hundred year history of the use of fingerprint identification around the world, which has included since the1890's the identification of partial prints found at crime scenes. I also testified to the fact that courts around the world have accepted fingerprint evidence.

I also described Galton’s statistical study in more detail and explained the results of his study. I testified that Galton had stated in his book that the statistical chance of a duplicate print was 1 chance in 64 billion. At the time Galton’s book was published, Galton used what was believed to be the population of the earth, 16 billion. Therefore he stated that the chance of a duplicate fingerprint was one chance in four times the population of the earth, not just 1 in 4 as testified by Cole. I also explained that Galton later learned the population of the earth was closer to 1.5 billion, which changed his probability to 1 in about 37 times the population of the earth. I was asked about other statistical studies, but because of an objection by the defense, I was only allowed to state that there were others.

Both defendants were convicted. I do not know the specific details of the entire case, but I was told that the print evidence was a significant part of the prosecution of one of the defendants.

William Leo, CLPE
Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department


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First examiner:
"some prints match; some prints don't, and I calls 'em as they is."
Second examiner:
"some prints match; some prints don't, and I calls 'em as I sees 'em."
Third examiner:
"some prints match; some prints don't, but you ain't got neither till I calls 'em!"

Adapted by K. Wertheim
from a baseball analogy of H. Cantril
(balls and strikes by an umpire)


UPDATES on CLPEX.com this week...

Updated the Ridgeology Science Workshop page of CLPEX.com to include new past courses.  Read student comments about last week's RSW in Suffolk County, NY on the RSW14 "past training" page.

Slightly modified the CLPEX.com home page

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!