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G o o d   M o r n i n g !
Monday, February 9, 2004

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.

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

Mounties Got Their Man, But He Isn't Suspect - ARIZONA REPUBLIC, AZ - Feb 6, 2004. ...the similarities were tantalizing. Same facial structure. Same short haircut. A surgical scar on the back...

Print Fingers Robbery Suspect - THE EDINBURGH COURIER, IN - Feb 5, 2004 ...a fingerprint left behind after a July store robbery has led to an arrest nearly six months later...

Rape Case Fingerprints 'Switched' - BBC NEWS, UK - Feb 4, 2004 ...a lawyer for an alleged rapist believes that a police scientist tampered with clients prints...

Organization Raps School Fingerprint Checks - MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS, UK - Feb 3, 2004 ...the civil liberties group 'Liberty' has criticized a school's decision to take prints of all pupils...


Please help me welcome our new Smiley Czar....


*and the crowd goes wild*

Bill works for the Grand Rapids Police Department in Michigan.  He will be running the new internet home for Smileys!  We hope to build the largest collection of smiley-face fingerprint patterns on planet earth.  Visit the new "Smiley" page of to see the new format.  Click on a thumbnail to see an enlarged image, which can be saved or printed for whatever creative purpose you have in mind.  And a big THANK YOU to Bill in advance for his efforts on this fun page that will become even more fun as time goes on!.


Rob Crowetz is trying to get certification pay for CLPE's in the West Palm Beach area since the courts are asking for certifications.  He would like responses from Detail readers regarding whether you receive pay incentives for being certified through the IAI.  Also, he is interested in obtaining a copy of the pay scale.  Please follow up with Rob for more information:


Last week, Craig Coppock shared his thoughts on the scientific foundation of our science... uniqueness and individualization.  It was ironic that an article appeared in the Newz column of that same issue that related recent scrutiny in the UK regarding fingerprint examination.

Two more articles appeared in the United States this week that question the science of fingerprints.  This small flare up of critical news articles is the result of an erroneous identification in Boston, but they point to a larger issue surrounding our discipline; the need for latent print examiners to be ready to defend the methods of our practice.  Are you following the accepted ACE-V methodology?  Can you articulate an analysis protocol that supports your conclusions in that case?  This week's Detail relates two articles that could have been published in your back yard.  As you read below, ask yourself how you would address each issue raised.


A Blow to the Credibility of Fingerprint Evidence
Date: February 2, 2004 Page: A14 Section: Op-Ed Boston Globe


Cowans was recently released after startling revelations made it clear that he was not the shooter. DNA tests on clothing left near the crime scene and on a saliva specimen from the glass did not match Cowans's DNA. The prosecution still insisted it had the right guy - after all, his fingerprint was on that glass. But when that fingerprint was reanalyzed by experts, it turned out not to match Cowans after all.

However this particular fingerprint error ends up being explained, it raises important issues that go well beyond the Boston Police Department. The science of fingerprints, once thought to be impregnable, is far from secure. Courts must be hesitant to admit fingerprints as evidence until there is better information about how often mistaken identifications are made. There are only three possible explanations. One is fraud on the part of the fingerprint examiner. Another is incompetence. The third is error. Each reveals a significant problem in our current use of fingerprint evidence.

What if it's fraud? While most forensic scientists are dedicated professionals, the fact that forensic science is conducted in state crime labs and police departments creates implicit pressures to please the prosecution. Moreover, forensic investigators often know about other evidence linking a suspect to a crime, and this outside knowledge may color their forensic analysis. Independent crime laboratories could insulate forensic experts from both bias and the temptation to be too cozy with the prosecution.

In this case, the district attorney has suggested that the error was probably just an honest mistake, as if this ought to provide some comfort. But it shouldn't. At present, there is virtually no accurate information on just how often fingerprint examiners actually make mistakes - and unlike DNA experts, fingerprint experts routinely testify that their matches are "100 percent certain."

What is troubling is not that such mistakes might happen. No forensic technique could ever be error-free. But the present dearth of information on mistakes - either from incompetence or "honest" error - is simply inexcusable. Fingerprinting is often said to be be infallible, a forensic "gold standard." But if we ask how often declared fingerprint matches are actually wrong, the only honest answer is that no one has any idea.

There are no systematic proficiency tests to evaluate examiners' skill. Those tests that exist are not routinely used and are substandard. In another recent case, even the FBI's proficiency tests were acknowledged by another fingerprint examiner to be absurdly easy. While challenging proficiency tests would not be perfect, they would provide significantly more information about error rates.

More shocking, there are no uniform standards, locally or nationally, about what counts as a fingerprint match. Different jurisdictions, and even different examiners, have different criteria, and the courts have simply left it to the experts' judgment.

In addition, we have no idea how often two individuals - whose prints would indeed look different if we had access to a complete set of 10 undistorted prints - might have partial fingerprints that resemble each other enough for an examiner reasonably to mistake them as coming from the same person, especially when the print lifted from the crime scene might be smudged and distorted.

Fingerprints are clearly an enormously valuable investigative tool. But the fingerprint community has little motivation to investigate how often they make mistakes. Fingerprint examiners regularly assert in court that the technique is error-free and that fingerprint matches are a sure thing. Whatever real research ends up showing, fingerprints cannot possibly be as perfect a technique as the experts presently claim. Unless courts make better knowledge about error rates a precondition of its use as legal evidence, the fingerprint experts will have no incentive to measure them.

Fingerprint evidence has enormous cultural power - in Cowans's case, the prosecutor had said he was prepared to prosecute again, despite the exculpatory DNA findings, precisely because of that supposed fingerprint match. Although numerous defendants have challenged the use of fingerprint evidence in court in the past few years, judges for the most part have not taken these challenges as seriously as they should. Whatever happened in this case, it should be a wake up call to experts, prosecutors, judges, and the public. Until the limits of fingerprint evidence are better understood, we must be wary.

Fingerprints may be unique. This error, almost certainly, is not.


Lawyer Cites Trouble with Fingerprints as Evidence
February 6, 2004

The lawyer for a man waiting to be retried in the 1993 slaying of a Boston police detective wants to quash key fingerprint evidence, citing last month's exoneration of a Roxbury man who was convicted largely because of a misidentified fingerprint.

The lawyer for Terry L. Patterson said the discrediting of evidence that had led to the conviction of Stephan Cowans shows that fingerprint analysis, long considered the gold standard for identifying criminals, is inherently unreliable. Cowans was convicted of wounding another Boston officer in an unrelated 1997 shooting.

"The Cowans case illustrates that forensic fingerprint identification is the emperor with no clothes," said John H. Cunha Jr. His argument appears to be the first attempt by a defense lawyer to use Cowans's wrongful conviction to derail another Suffolk County criminal case.

The Boston Police Department, which processed prints in both cases, isn't the problem, Cunha said. "The entire methodology is nonsense," he said.

Arguments against the reliability of fingerprinting are being made more frequently by defense lawyers across the country. Fingerprinting enjoyed an impeccable reputation as a crimefighting tool for most of the last century, but its scientific underpinnings have recently been questioned.

Cunha has requested fingerprint and DNA evidence from the Cowans case to bolster his motion to suppress fingerprint evidence against Patterson, one of two men convicted in the notorious 1993 slaying of Detective John J. Mulligan, who was shot five times in the face as he sat in his car in the parking lot of a Roslindale shopping center. Patterson's conviction was overturned by the Supreme Judicial Court three years ago because of an error by his trial lawyer. Since then, Patterson, 30, has been held without bail at the Nashua Street Jail.

Suffolk Assistant District Attorney David E. Meier responded in court documents that he would supply the evidence and that he welcomed a hearing on the admissibility of fingerprints, both in the Patterson case and in general. Meier, who represented the district attorney's office when Cowans was freed last month, plans to personally retry the Patterson case.

Other documents filed by Meier in the Patterson case show that the Boston police fingerprint examiner who identified Patterson's prints on the Ford Explorer in which Mulligan was shot was not one of two examiners who misidentified a thumbprint found in the Cowans case.

No hearing on the request to suppress the evidence has been set.

Cowans walked out of Suffolk Superior Court a free man on Jan. 23 after serving 6 1/2 years in prison for a crime he always insisted he did not commit. He had been found guilty in 1998 of shooting Sergeant Gregory Gallagher in the buttocks in a Roxbury backyard, but recent DNA analysis determined that clothing discarded by the gunman was worn by someone else.

Meier had initially said he would retry Cowans using "compelling" fingerprint evidence, but reversed himself two days later after a new analysis determined that a thumbprint on a glass mug was not Cowans's.

Hours after Cowans's release, Boston's acting police commissioner, James M. Hussey, said his department had asked the International Association for Identification, the world's largest and oldest forensic group, and the FBI to help it form an outside investigative team to review Boston police procedures for analyzing fingerprints.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors immediately predicted that the botched fingerprint analysis would lead to challenges of other criminal convictions in cases involving Boston police and fingerprint evidence.

Patterson and Sean K. Ellis, friends from Dorchester, were tried separately on charges of killing Mulligan as he worked a late-night paid detail outside a Walgreens drug store on Sept. 26, 1993. Ellis was tried three times before a Suffolk Superior Court jury convicted him of first-degree murder.

Patterson was also found guilty of first-degree murder after a jury deliberated for three hours, but the SJC overturned the conviction in December 2000, ruling that Patterson's lawyer should have removed herself from the case and testified as a defense witness when it was clear she had information that disputed police testimony.

Cunha has been challenging the fingerprint evidence in the Patterson case since October 2002, when he first filed a motion asking that fingerprint evidence used in the original trial not be admitted when he is retried.

Sergeant Robert Foilb testified at the original trial that three latent fingerprints recovered on the driver's side window of Mulligan's car belonged to Patterson. But Foilb reached that conclusion, Cunha said, by adding up matching so-called "ridge characteristics" from three fingers -- six on one, two on another, and five on the third -- a method Cunha this week called "crazy."

"You cannot make an identification of somebody from a limited number of comparison points, particularly when they're fingerprints like you find in [criminal] cases," Cunha said. "They're partial, they're smudged, they're distorted."

If Cunha's hearing is granted, he evidently intends to put fingerprint evidence on trial. He contends that juries erroneously believe that such evidence is infallible because it has been portrayed that way in movies, television shows, and elsewhere.

Fingerprint evidence has come under increasing attack in recent years. In January 2002, US District Court Judge Louis H. Pollak of Philadelphia stunned the legal community when he ruled that fingerprint evidence does not meet the standards of scientific scrutiny established by the US Supreme Court and said fingerprint examiners could not testify that a suspect's fingerprints match those found at a crime scene. Two months later, however, Pollak, a former dean of Yale Law School, reversed himself, saying, "I have changed my mind."

Simon A. Cole, the author of "Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification," agreed with Cunha that some people have an inflated view of the reliability of fingerprint evidence. One of the problems, he said, is that law enforcement officials have never concurred on how many points of comparison must match before one can confidently say that a particular print belongs to an individual.

However, Cole disputed Cunha's assertion that fingerprint evidence is simply too flawed to be useful.

FAIR USE NOTICE:  Both of these articles are Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.  They can be located on the website of the Globe: CLPEX has made these articles available to latent print examiners in an effort to advance scientific understanding in the field of latent prints, thus constituting a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.  In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is displayed without profit to those who wish to view this information for research and/or educational purposes.  If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


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Check out this awesome latent print screensaver!!  Thanks, Mary Nolte, for this week's Funny Fingerprint Find!

Iconico - Dirty Fingerprints


Five secrets to managing up

The word management brings to mind visions of bosses dictating down to their subordinates.  But workers can push their own innovative ideas, opinions and decisions up the organization, and help their managers do a better job in the process.  Here's how:

1) Make your manager look like a hero.  The better job you do, the better your department and your boss will look to upper management.

2) Don't be shy.  Tell your manager what's on your mind.  Don't make her guess..

3) Anticipate problems and solve them at your level, before they become bigger problems that only management can solve.

4) Be your own best advocate.  Present a clear and compelling case for what you want, whether it's a raise, a promotion, or an increase in responsibility or authority.  Support your case with hard facts, not emotion..

5) Enlist others to help.  There is strength in numbers.  The more people you can bring around to your point of view, the better chance the boss will implement your ideas.

-Adapted from 1001 ways to Take Initiative at Work, by Bob Nelson, via Communication Briefings, August 2003, 800.722.9221,



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

Have a GREAT week!