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Monday, March 8, 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

Fingerprints Could Join Fight Against Identity Theft - TACOMA NEWS TRIBUNE, WA - Mar 6, 2004 ...officials have approved bills that would let drivers submit a fingerprint to help protect against identity theft...

Print Program Failings Faulted - CBS NEWS - Mar 2, 2004 ...delays in the integration of FBI fingerprint files with databases used by the Border Patrol may leave the US vulnerable...

Grocery Chain to Offer Paying with Fingerprint - MIAMI HERALD, FL - Mar 2, 2004 technology will allow customers to pay for their groceries at checkout with one touch of the finger...

Suspect Fingered: Break in Old Bank Robbery - CALGARY SUN, CANADA - Mar 2, 2004 ...AFIS used to help solve the 15-year old crime...


Last week, we looked at another article on digital imaging challenges.  This week, we hear from Kathy Saviers regarding Deferred Examinations.


Deferred Examinations: Practical Solutions or Sloppy Casework?

Recently, I posted a question on the forum asking when or if it would be appropriate to stop working on a case when several latent print identifications were effected. In my example, I had identified one suspect 15 times on a recovered stolen vehicle and 5 more times on a paper sack inside the vehicle. There were 4 latent prints that I excluded from this suspect and had searched these 4 latent prints through AFIS with no hits. I didn’t have victim elimination prints. There were additional latent prints on the vehicle and the paper sack, but they were partial palm prints (I had no rolled palms on the suspect) or smaller impressions that were identifiable but would take much longer to find and identify.

The questions:

Have I done adequate work for the successful prosecution of the case?

Can I stop working on it, deferring the remaining examinations until or in case they become important to the case?

Do others consider it “sloppy casework” when comparisons are not totally finished and decisions are not made (identify, exclude, insufficient) on every piece of friction ridge skin impression?

Does my agency require that I make a decision on every impression I keep?

If I “miss” an identification, will my agency consider it a “mark” against me?

Are deferred examinations a practical method to provide sufficient information to the investigator and/or prosecutor in a timely manner to proceed with the case yet allowing me to work on other cases to serve the next customer?

In an effort to reduce backlog by doing deferred examinations, am I sacrificing the quality of my casework to increase my quantity of casework?

If I don’t have the time to do it right today, will I have the time to do it over tomorrow?


In these times of tight budgets, shortages of personnel and increasing casework, the manner in which casework is done is likely to be re-examined and adjustments are likely to be considered. One option is to compare latent print evidence in a case and once a few identifications on significant areas or on certain items of evidence have been effected, to defer additional work on the case.

If an agency does have a policy of deferred examinations, all of these questions have to be answered. There has to be coordination, cooperation and understanding between the examiner, the case investigator and the prosecutor. Part of the policy should include the types of crime. For example, it might be acceptable to defer further examinations of any additional latent prints on a recovered stolen vehicle or a residential burglary after identifying the suspect once or twice inside the vehicle or inside the residence. That standard might not acceptable on a robbery, sexual assault or homicide. Plus it might be defined that any number of identifications to the same person on the same item beyond 2 or 4 or (specify number) is redundant and unnecessary, so stop working on this case and move on to the next one.

My original question had to do with excessive identifications. After I identified the suspect fifteen times on the vehicle, can I stop? I did this many before stopping because it placed the suspect touching the driver’s door and window, the passenger’s door and window, the hood and the trunk. All of these identifications were on the outside of the vehicle, however. My logic for taking the time to identify all of those latent prints was to demonstrate all the different locations on the vehicle touched by the suspect to prevent any defense arguments of “my client was walking past this car in a parking lot and leaned on the hood to tie his shoe.” The average person walking through a parking lot would not have touched the car in all of these locations. Also, the positions of some of the latent prints on the doors and windows were indicative of someone opening or closing the door. But, on this case, I also processed a bottle of beer (no prints) and the paper sack it was in. These items were inside the vehicle. I identified the suspect five times on the paper sack. From both the car and the paper sack, I suppose I could have taken the time to compare more latent prints to this suspect, but the question arose in my mind… what do others think about whether I had done enough on this type of case?

One of the responses to the forum discussion asked if I had four latent prints and identified two to the suspect, would I stop? I am not sure that I would for such a low number. I would probably complete the examinations on all four latent prints. But, my original question demonstrates the other side of the issue… could I stop after fifteen identifications because there were so many more impressions to look at? Another person commented that they only make one latent print identification and stop. I don’t know that I would feel totally comfortable giving my investigators only one identification when I could give them three or four on one suspect. They seem to feel that a couple of latent prints identifications are more impressive when submitting the case to the Grand Jury.

My agency doesn’t have a policy requiring that I make a determination on every friction ridge skin impression or that, if I miss an identification, I will be in trouble and sent to re-training. They value a reasonable effort to produce sufficient results on evidence for successful Grand Jury indictments in a timely manner. From the scientific community standpoint, reporting of this nature reflects that additional latent prints are present that haven’t been compared. This helps to explain that the comparisons have been stopped and that the identifications actually haven’t been missed, but, rather, they haven’t been compared.


I am grateful for the suggestion of using the term of “deferred examination.” It has a scientific tone to it and it seems a very reasonable method to quickly turnover adequate casework results in a timely manner towards the successful prosecution of a case. Because of these questions and discussion, I have decided on my own personal position. I would rather get a couple of latent print identifications per case on three cases and defer the rest of the examinations to get those cases through Grand Jury this week, than spend three or four extra days per case to look at every friction ridge skin impression to make a determination and only get one case through Grand Jury this week. Then, if the defendant goes to trial, which is infrequent here, I can re-examine the rest of the latent prints at a later time if the prosecutor feels it is necessary to the successful prosecution of the case.


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Tips for sharper proofreading

It's vital to proofread all written communication, yet few people take the time they need to properly review a document.  Use these tips to improve your proofreading techniques:

1. Reduce interruptions.  When you're proofreading, close your door, find a quiet office or use an empty conference room.

2. Assume that you will find mistakes.  It's easier to find something if you're looking for it.

3. Search for only one kind of error at a time.  First, look for spelling errors; the second time through search for punctuation problems; then focus on subject-verb agreement and so on.

4. Take breaks.  Proofing can be tiring and tedious.  If you don't take a break, a mistake is likely to slip through.

5. Check the details.  Verify dates, times, days, numbers and addresses.  Call phone numbers to ensure their accuracy and pay particular attention to extensions.  When checking Web site addresses, go to the site and make sure the referenced information is there.

6. Plan for the future.  No matter how careful you are, there's always the chance that mistakes will slip through.  If something gets by you, focus on preventing it the next time.  Make notes on the types of mistakes that got through the proofreading net, and keep a watchful eye for them in the future.

-From the Editors of Communication Briefings, December 2003, 800.722.9221,



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Have a GREAT week!