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Monday, June 2, 2008

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...
by Kasey Wertheim
Bond Gadgets: Never Say They'll Never Work
ABC News - May 29, 2008
Using gelatine as found in chewy sweets like gummi bears, he showed that a latent print could be lifted from a glass and used to fool 80 per cent of ...
Comparison Sought For Bloody Footprint
Tampa Tribune, FL - May 27, 2008
At the crime scene, latent print analyst Rick Navarro examined the bloody footprint and determined that it exhibits sufficient ridge detail for comparison ...
Asbury Park Press, NJ - May 31, 2008
Jose Ernesto Acevedo Montes wore socks over his hands in what police believe was an attempt to avoid leaving his fingerprints inside the victim's home, ...
Wesley Earnest, charged with murdering wife, granted bond
Lynchburg News and Advance, VA - May 30, 2008
During the preliminary hearing, prosecutors revealed they found Wesley Earnest’s fingerprints on a purported suicide note found near his wife’s body. ...

Recent CLPEX Posting Activity
Last Week's Board topics containing new posts
Moderated by Steve Everist

Upgrade Being Conducted



Updated the Fingerprint Interest Group (FIG) page with FIG #47; a subtle double tap, submitted by Bonnie Manno.  You can send your example of unique distortion to Charlie Parker:

Updated the forum Keeping Examiners Prepared for Testimony (KEPT) thread with KEPT #22; Blind Verification - Expected Results, submitted by Michelle Triplett.  You can send your questions on courtroom topics to Michelle Triplett:

Updated the Detail Archives


Last week

we looked at an article on cross-linking latent cases through latent-to-latent comparisons

This week

Charlie Parker brings us a look at the concept of keeping latent prints deemed not of value for identification.

Keeping Latent Prints Of No Value For Identification
by Charles J. Parker, CLPE
Austin Police Department

It has always been my conviction that when a latent print lift or photo is submitted for examination that the legal requirement or at least the right requirement that even if it is of no value for either identification or in today’s world comparison that it must be retained. I am aware that agencies in the past did not follow that rule but discarded those lifts or photos that were determined to be of no value but that practice has ceased. In teaching a class last year I was surprised when the subject came up that several students stated that their agencies still perform the “No Value In The Trash” procedure.

In March 1982 there was an article published titled “The Philosophy of the Field of Identification” several questions were asked of the members of the Fingerprint Subcommittee. Now 26 years later I wonder if those same examiners have the same view, or has it changed over time. Here is the excerpt from that article.


Hall: If a pattern is discernible, yes. It may be possible to eliminate suspect(s) on the basis of the pattern type only. It would depend on that case.

Leadbetter: No. If no positive identification can be established from the latent, in my opinion it should be destroyed. A latent can either be identified or not identified – there is no alternative.

Putter: If there are other digits present, possibly, but if not, unidentifiable prints should not be retained.

Hamilton: No, a latent impression which cannot be identified cannot be considered as evidence.

Olsen: No.

Grieve: Obviously some impressions are valueless for identification purposes. Others are so evaluated by one that may be identified to someone who has more experience or ability. Saving garbage is fruitless.

Norkus: Prints which are not suitable for identification are not fingerprints and should be discarded.

Watling: If the examiner is competent and if Departmental policy permits, any latent that does not contain sufficient characteristics for identification should be destroyed. Although I do seriously believe there are different levels of competency, I cannot see keeping worthless impressions. If there is any doubt, keep it. In our lab the policy is that if two examiners with the rank of LPE II must agree that the latent is of no value before it can be destroyed.

Ross: No . . . after examining for characteristics. Otherwise we would keep everything imaginable.

This article did create some comments and in the June 1982 issue a Barry Cushman responded and the following are some of his response.

“It has been my experience that these useless latent lifts do have value in court as evidence if properly presented. There have been several occasions in our courts of the defense making great issue of the fact that his client prints are not on an object, were not found at the scene, or were not identified. One answer to this may be that the object or scene were not processed for latent fingerprints. This is a poor answer and an embarrassing one to admit in open court. Another answer is that not all latent lifts are identifiable since there is nothing there, or it is smudged, overlapped, etc. This last answer can be enhanced upon to give the jury adequate information on which to base their decision.”

“…..This is also a good example of the best evidence rule, being able to produce and show the real evidence, not to just talk about it.”

In the September 1982 issue a Donald L. Conner took the opposite approach as to Cushman’s comments. Some excerpts from his response are:

“My point is this, to retain and maintain in our filing system all latents retrieved at the crime scenes, regardless of ridge detail value, would be disastrous. Our latent files would bulge to a totally unworkable and unmanageable system with “latents of value” lost in the mass of “latents of no value”. The number of latent identifications would certainly plummet due to time consumed in tabulating and filing latents of no value, time taken away from crime scene examination and latent comparisons.

When presenting all latents retrieved to the court, a case can be made for “presenting best evidence”. However, you open yourself up for possibly some very hard to answer questions. In addition, you run the risk of the defense ‘expert witness’ identifying a ‘latent of no value’ that you, the state’s expert, could not identify.

Our experience has been that once you adequately present yourself to the court as a fingerprint expert (in other words you give the impressions that you know what you are talking about), then the easy explanation that ‘all latents of no value were discarded’ is acceptable without question.”

A lot of things have changed in 25 plus years. Even ASCLD-LAB has a little blurb on the topic. The following is taken from their Legacy program from page 33 of their June 2005 Legacy program: “While it is permissible to keep all prints, ASCLD/LAB does not require that original latent prints or legible copies of latent prints which have no value for comparison or which were not examined be maintained in the case record.”

Now that DNA has been obtained in a limited number of cases from latent images that were determined to be of no value, I wonder if the some agencies are still discarding those that have been determined of no value.

For my part I think we will keep on maintaining the custody of latent lifts and photographs that have been submitted for examination. I happen to agree with Barry Cushman’s “Best Evidence Rule”.

1. “The Philosophy of the Field of Identification” Author Unknown, March 1982, V32(3).
2. “Comments On: The Philosophy of the Field of Identification” by Barry Q. Cushman, June 1982, V32(6).
3. “More on “The Philosophy of The Field of Identification” by Donald L. Conner, September 1982, V32(9).


KEPT - Keeping Examiners Prepared for Testimony - #22
Blind Verification - Expected Results
by Michele Triplett, King County Sheriff's Office

Disclaimer: The intent of this is to provide thought provoking discussion. No claims of accuracy exist.

Question – Blind Verification – Expected Results:
What happens if the results of blind verification are not the same as the original conclusion?

Possible Answers:
a) If the results are not the same then the individualization isn’t considered a good conclusion.
b) As long as the conclusions aren’t conflicting then there’s not a problem.
c) Conclusions may be different because of differing tolerance levels. One person may make an identification that another person is uncomfortable with due their differing tolerance levels. This is why differing conclusions isn’t a problem.
d) Our agency policy is….(state your agency policy).
e) The conclusions of blind verification are one aspect we assess but another important element to look at is how and why the blind verifier arrived at their conclusions (the justification behind the conclusion).

Answers a and b: If the conclusions are not conflicting (one person individualizes an image and another person says inconclusive) then no erroneous conclusion exists but the blind verification didn’t give any information about the reproducibility to the person using this tool. If a certain process is needed then it should be used in a manner that will give the user some result. When no results are given and the user isn’t concerned then they are either uneducated about the process they are using or perhaps they are not using the process as diligently as they should.

Answer c: Conclusions that differ due to tolerance levels are acceptable. This only becomes a problem when people use this as the reason that conclusions differ when there is no data to lead people to this conclusion (such as no notes that state that consistency existed but not sufficiency). If one person individualizes a latent print and another doesn’t, then we shouldn’t assume that tolerance levels were the issue unless it’s stated. Without this form of documentation, it’s just as likely that the second examiner was unable to correctly orient or locate the area of friction ridge detail that the latent print originated from. It’s also possible that the conclusions were different because different items of evidence were looked at (such as lift cards vs. photographs of lift cards).

Answer d: If your agency has a procedure then stating this it is the best answer. If an agency uses blind verification then it’s advisable to have a procedure which states when and how to use it.

Answer e: If a fingerprint comparison is so complex that blind verification is needed then justification (or documentation of the justification) should accompany the blind verification. Suppose an examiner individualized a latent print to a known print but blind verification resulted in an inconclusive determination. We can’t simple decide that the individualization should or shouldn’t be made; we need to know why this occurred. It’s possible that the two individuals were using different tools (a 4x magnifier vs. computer magnification). It’s possible that the two individuals were using different exemplars (an original vs. a livescan image vs. a copy vs. fax). It’s also possible that the two people have different visual abilities. Some people see certain shades better than others. It’s also possible that one person noticed something in the print that the other person did not. If blind verification resulted in different conclusions then we need to know the justification behind the conclusions and not make a determination about individualization prior to having this information.


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