Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac
Evidence Links One Defendant to 1971 Killing of S.F. Police Officer
SAN FRANCISCO, CHRONICLE, CA
- Jan 25, 2007
...fingerprints found on the lighter were determined in 2003 to belong
Fingerprints 'found on murder bag'
- Jan 24, 2007 ...two fingerprints of the victims wife
were found on a the black bin bag used to suffocate him...
Forensics Classes a Dangerous Idea?
SUDBURY TOWN CRIER, MA
- Jan 23,
2007 ...at least one crime expert says
bringing the "dark side" of science to the High School classroom is
Fingerprint Matching Techniques Need Reform
UC DAVIS NEWS & INFO
- Jan 22, 2007
key to fighting international terrorism and keeping criminals off the
street is no longer foolproof...
Recent CLPEX Posting Activity
containing new posts
Moderated by Steve Everist
Thomas Taylor Sun Jan 28, 2007 6:15 pm
10 years is enough fight for the McKie family
clpexco Sun Jan 28, 2007 6:10 pm
Testing fingerprint reagents
Michele Triplett Sun Jan 28, 2007 3:09 am
LATENT PRINT SUPERVISOR - KING COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE
Steve Everist Sat Jan 27, 2007 6:28 pm
Number of man-hours to identify James Earl Ray in 1968
cchampod Thu Jan 25, 2007 12:42 pm
Opportunities abound for latent print examiners
Kasey Wertheim Thu Jan 25, 2007 2:11 am
UPDATES ON CLPEX.com
Updated the Smiley Files with one new Smiley from Julie Snyder, Grand Rapids
Updated the RSW Plus page with
the April, 2007 course in Ft. Collins, Colorado - there are still seats
Learn from Glenn Langenburg and Josh Bergeron
how to more effectively utilize ACE-V, practice methods for documenting
Analysis prior to Comparison, and efficiently use Adobe Photoshop to
document the Comparison phase of ACE-V and demonstrate latent print
identifications. For details and registration information, contact
Bonnie@foridents.com or by phone
Cynthia Rennie distilled a presentation by Dr.
Itel Dror and David Charlton at the recent ABFDE seminar.
The subject of today’s
Weekly Detail is a case that might be of interest not just for latent print
examiners, but for practitioners of all comparative forensic disciplines to
keep on the radar. On January 19, 2007, Justice Patricia Coffey of the New
Hampshire Superior Court, granted a defendant’s Motion in Limine to Exclude
a latent print identification until such time that she is
satisfied that examiners have conducted “a methodologically reliable
analysis” on the single latent print identification in the criminal case.
[emphasis added] A strategy session
is being held at which the prosecutor, examiners, and other relevant
personnel will determine how to best address the concerns of the judge and
request reconsideration of her decision. Steve Ostrowski, with approval
from the prosecuting attorney and his supervisor, brings us the scoop on
this important case:
Judge Grants Motion to Exclude
Latent Fingerprint Identification
by Steve Ostrowski, CLPE
NH State Police Forensic Lab, Concord, NH
On Friday, January 19, 2007, the New Hampshire State Police Forensic
Laboratory was informed that a ruling had occurred on their most recent Daubert hearing concerning
the admissibility of fingerprint evidence. In the case of
State v. Richard Langill, an almost yearlong ordeal was to determine if a
single latent friction ridge impression identified as being deposited by the defendant in
the victim’s home during a burglary could be used at trial. Justice
Patricia C. Coffey of the Rockingham County Superior Court granted the
defendant’s Motion to Exclude, precluding the latent print examiner's expert opinion from being
presented to a jury.
The proceedings began with the depositions of the state examiner,
Criminalist Lisa Corson and the defense expert, Professor James Starrs in
mid-to-late January 2006. The hearing was actually conducted on two days
nine months apart. The first day of the hearing was January 27, 2006 in
which Ms. Corson offered evidence to support of the science of fingerprint
identification. The deposition of state examiner Criminalist Stephen
Ostrowski was then conducted in mid-February. Due to several continuations
from both sides, the second day of the hearing did not take place until
October 11, 2006. On this day, Prof. Starrs offered evidence stating that
stricter guidelines and more documentation concerning latent comparisons
were needed throughout the field. Mr. Ostrowski subsequently offered
testimony that countered points brought forward by Prof. Starrs.
This is not the first time the New Hampshire State Police Forensic Lab has
been challenged to prove the reliability of fingerprint evidence. In 2004,
a Daubert hearing found fingerprints to be reliable and thus admissible in
the case of State v. Uno Kim. In this case Stephen Meagher of the FBI and
Marc Dupre of the NHSP Forensic Lab offered testimony for the state and the
defense offered no expert. In 2005, a Daubert hearing again found
fingerprint evidence to be reliable and admissible in the case of State v. William
Sullivan. In this case Stephen Ostrowski offered testimony for the state
while the defense offered Dr. Simon Cole as their expert. Both of these
hearings were more “traditional” in that they provided evidence to support
the prongs set out in Daubert v. Merrell Dow, being testability and
standards, peer review, error rate, and general acceptance.
In this case of State v. Richard Langill, the court sided with many points
taken from the decisions in US v. Mitchell, US v. Sherwood, US v. Crisp, US
v. Havvard, US v. Llera Plaza, State v. Kim, and State v. Sullivan. This
court ruled that: 1) Ms. Corson has sufficient training and experience to
qualify as an expert and offer testimony; 2) the principles underlying
fingerprint identification are generally reliable; 3) the underlying
principles of permanence and uniqueness are a reliable basis for expert
testimony; 4) the premise that an individualization can be made based on
sufficient quality and quantity has been peer reviewed; 5) fingerprint
identification is generally accepted within the forensic identification
The court refrained from commenting on error rate as it simply summarized
the arguments set forth by each side.
After the court had determined that Ms. Corson’s methodology was generally
valid, it set out to determine whether the principles and methods were
indeed properly applied to the facts of the case at hand. Daubert sets the
focus of the courts solely on principles and methods, not the conclusions
derived from their application. Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence
focuses more on the actual application of the methodology and whether it was
In 2004, a new state law NH RSA 516:29-a, entitled Testimony of Expert
Witness, integrated verbiage from Rule 702 and expanded on the traditional
Daubert prongs providing additional criteria a judge must consider when
finding an expert to be qualified and whether that expert’s testimony would
be reliable and relevant. The additional verbiage states:
A witness shall not be allowed to offer an expert testimony unless the court
finds: a) such testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data; b) such
testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and c) the
witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the
Based primarily on part “c” of the additional verbiage provided in NH RSA
516:29-a, the court ruled:
Ms. Corson is qualified through training, experience, and proficiency
testing to provide expert testimony at the defendant’s trial. However, Ms.
Corson’s proffered testimony is inadmissible under Rule 702 because her
application of the ACE-V (Analysis, Comparison, Evaluation, and
Verification) methodology to the single latent print in this case was
unreliable as a result of incomplete documentation and possibly biased
The defendant challenged that the absence of written contemporaneous bench
notes for the analysis, comparison, evaluation, and verification (ACE-V)
phases of the fingerprint examination illustrates that the application of
the methodology of ACE-V was unreliable. Concerning documentation, the
Friction ridge impressions are extremely detailed, and in this case, the
expert opinion that the latent print found at the scene was matched to the
defendant appears to be the heart of the state’s case against the
defendant. Accordingly, the application of ACE-V warrants close scrutiny.
Commenting further on documentation, the court stated:
Contemporaneous documentation of the analysis will help alleviate the
inherent risk of human error in the application of the ACE-V methodology….
Although the court recognized that the precise mental analysis engaged in by
an examiner may be impossible to document, that is not to say that each
examiner could not document his or her application of the ACE-V methodology
as extensively as practicable.
In addition to the issue of documentation via contemporaneous written bench
notes during the ACE-V methodology by both the original examiner and
verifying examiner, the court felt that certain aspects of the verification
phase warranted commentary. The court was presented with testimony
concerning confirmation bias and blind verification as the defense had
introduced several works such as: the Office of the Inspector General’s
report, “A Review of the FBI’s Handling of the Brandon Mayfield Case,”
Robert B. Stacey’s article, “Report on the Erroneous Fingerprint
Individualization in the Madrid Train Bombing Case,” and Simon Cole’s book
Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal
Identification. Referencing these works, the court stated that:
The identification process used in this case was not independent in the true
sense of the word because the verifying examiner was aware that an
individualization had already been made.
The court went on to state:
Blind verifications would not necessitate…that every latent print be
examined twice regardless of the outcome of the initial analysis. The court
can envision possible methods of creating a plausible blind verification
process, such as assigning verification cases without identifying them as
In summary, the court found that 1) because the state’s examiner did not
record written contemporaneous notes during the application of the analysis
phase of the ACE methodology and 2) the NHSP Forensic Lab does not employ a
protocol calling for blind verification for single latent print
identifications, there was insufficient basis to find that the ACE-V
methodology was applied in a scientifically reliable fashion.
In the final sentence of her decision, Judge Coffey did state that the
fingerprint identification is excluded “until such time that this court is
satisfied that the (lab) has conducted a methodically reliable analysis on
the latent print.” Currently, transcripts are being procured, affidavits
are being written and a strategy meeting is planned to determine how to
proceed. It is anticipated that a Motion to Reconsider will be filed with
the Rockingham County Superior Court with an appeal being a
distinct possibility if warranted.
Stephen H. Ostrowski, MSFS, CLPE
New Hampshire State Police Forensic Laboratory
33 Hazen Drive
Concord, New Hampshire 03305
Post-decision comment by Stephen Meagher:
After reviewing the Court’s decision, special attention must be placed on
the very last sentence which states “Accordingly, the defendant’s Motion in
Limine to Exclude the fingerprint identification is GRANTED until such time
that this court is satisfied that the NHDSFL has conducted a methodically
reliable analysis on the latent print found on Ms. Katz’s bureau.” This
statement implies that the Judge will leave this matter open and provide the
prosecution the opportunity to rectify what has been identified as
inadequacies in the latent print examination in order to meet the legal
requirements in N.H. Therefore, we must respect the on-going legal
proceedings and not interfere or cause harm for either side.
Until this legal matter is resolved, we, the latent print community, need to
1) monitor this matter as it plays out, 2) not interfere with comments of
speculation, criticism of NHDSFL, or legal debate, and 3) glean from it the
concerns the court raises, regardless of the outcome. After all, the
customer of our services is the court.
Discussion amongst latent print experts on the two matters raised by this
court, case documentation of ACE-V and blind verification, is certainly
worthy and encouraged. Neither of these topics are new and may best be
addressed by SWGFAST through the establishment of more detailed guidelines
for case documentation of ACE-V and for blind verification practices and
The Court’s decision reflects well on NHDSFL as the record indicates they
represented our discipline’s scientific basis extremely well. Neither the
scientific underpinnings to the fingerprint discipline nor the key Daubert
issues were brought into question by the Court.
As this case evolves this website will provide updates in an effort to keep
you informed of the latest activities.
A .pdf of
the complete decision of Justice Coffey is available for those wishing
for a more thorough review of the basis for her decision.
As articles appear in the mainstream media, let's work together to make sure
that the links are posted quickly to the CLPEX discussion forum. There
is no need for multiple threads for each article... just reply to the
discussion thread that starts us out.
Feel free to pass The Detail along to other
examiners. This is a free newsletter FOR latent print examiners, BY
latent print examiners.
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