Detail Archives    Discuss This Issue    Subscribe to The Detail Fingerprint News Archive       Search Past Details

G o o d   M o r n i n g !
Monday, December 15, 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
Neil Herrier named officer of the year
The Salinas Californian, CA - Dec 10, 2008
His current duties include being a latent fingerprint examiner, integrated ballistic-identification system examiner and crime scene investigator. ...
Arrests Made in Glen Burnie Tractor Rampage
ABC2 News, MD - Dec 9, 2008
Investigators were able to find the suspect's fingerprints in one of the front-end loaders and match them to fingerprints in their database. ...
East Hartford Teen Charged In Connection With Burglaries
Hartford Courant, United States - Dec 9, 2008
Officer Hugo Beneteri said latent fingerprint evidence collected at the scene of one burglary was entered into an automated identification system and led ...
Lexington teens charged with string of burglaries
WIS, SC - Dec 11, 2008
Metts says fingerprints found on a window that had been forced open during a break-in on June 17 at a home on Candlelight Drive near West Columbia matched ...

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

Public CLPEX Message Board
Moderated by Steve Everist

IAI Conference Topics -
Louisville, Kentucky 2008:
Moderator: Steve Everist

Tampa Conference Hotel Information
by Steve Everist on Wed Dec 10, 2008 8:45 pm

0 Replies
Last post by Steve Everist View the latest post
on Wed Dec 10, 2008 8:45 pm

Documentation issues as they apply to latent prints
Moderator: Charles Parker

Latent Form Documentation
Attachment(s) by Charles Parker on Tue Jul 08, 2008 9:52 pm
8 Replies
Last post by josher89 View the latest post
on Tue Dec 02, 2008 2:41 pm

Historical topics related to latent print examination
Moderator: Charles Parker

No new posts



Updated the Fingerprint Interest Group (FIG) page with FIG #74; Pressure Distortion, by J. Hernandez of Texas.  You can send your example (anonymously if you desire) of unique distortion through Charlie Parker:  For discussion, visit the forum FIG thread.

Updated the Detail Archives

Last week

we looked at the FBI-sponsored NIST Evaluation of Latent Fingerprint Technologies: Extended Feature Sets.

This week

Josh Bergeron brings us commentary on the recent MN v. Hull Frye-Mack hearing.

Identification versus Individualization

  • by Josh Bergeron

    Dear Colleagues,


    After reading several posts as to what my/Glenn’s opinion is on individualization vs. identification I would like to take a chance to try and clear up what I really testified to, separate from Glenn’s views.  First off, yes, I do think there is a difference between individualization and identification. How we reach each conclusion will, in my opinion, stay the same given the current state of technology and research. Whether you use individualization or identification, the examination methodology and point of tipping the scale to an ID should be the same.  The difference is when we have reached a conclusion of an ID, how do we define that conclusion?  In the end they will both carry the same weight and you as the examiner will simply have to justify your opinion.


    If you are not aware, I chose to use “identification” versus “individualization”.  Quite simply, to individualize something or someone you are saying that the chance of someone else sharing these features is zero.  It seems that given the logistics of fingerprinting the world, and achieving this absolute answer, this is simply not possible.  So, the next best thing we can do is to say identification; that is, beyond a reasonable doubt (the “doubt” being this unknown theoretical possibility) we have reached a conclusion (opinion) that a particular latent was made by a certain source and no one else.  We are considering the theoretical possibility, but because of the overwhelming amount of information in the latent and known, we can make the decision to discount the remotely small theoretical possibility and come to our decision.  By stating identification rather than individualization you are stating that you accept the possibility that two prints may be out there that could be (theoretically) close enough to fool you as an examiner.  But you are not aware of any discrepancies in the latent in question and no one has shown you otherwise….there is an overwhelming amount of information….etc…. 


    Quite frankly whether you use identification or individualization you will be doing the same process that has been done for years.  We as latent print examiners from the first days of our training begin to build up an internal database of identifications and the amount of corresponding information in those latent print identifications.  When we look at a print we make either a conscious or unconscious pull from that database that we, as the examiner, have never seen any two latent prints from two different individuals having this many ridge formations in agreement, and therefore are able to essentially tip the scale to an ID and conclude that they have been made by the same source.


    Given that most court situations require only a simple answer of what identification means, the examiner can state that X latent was made by Y source.  A more in-depth explanation than the opinion would not be necessary.  But in the situation where you are asked for more detail, you can state that you do not use individualization because you are aware that theoretically there could be two individuals that share enough ridge formations similar enough to each other that an examiner could be mistaken.  In the end I believe that this is transparent and open about our capabilities and limitations as scientists.  You of course could follow this with the fact that you have more information in the latent and known in question than ever seen by you in two different individuals and therefore believe that you have a valid identification.


    On the flip side, if you testify using the term individualization, you will have to provide a foundation for your claim of absolute in your result.  Depending on your definition, this may be different than the certainty of your opinion.  If you define that when you say individualization you are referring to the certainty of your opinion, then I would tend to agree with you that such testimony may be defensible.  However, because I don’t agree with the claim of individualization, I cannot do justice to this defense and thus I will leave it to the reader whether to implement this approach.


    To make it clear, I did not testify to a probability.  I am 100% certain (if you want to put a number on it) of my opinion that this person left this latent.  However, since I believe there is a minute theoretical possibility as stated above, I can’t truthfully testify to individualization to the exclusion of all others.


    Try to look at it like this: in practice, the opinion of an examiner is that sufficient quality and quantity of detail exists to make the claim that a particular latent was made by a certain person.  But because of his/her knowledge of human limitations and the existing limitations of research in the discipline, perhaps the more conservative way to state his/her opinion is by using the term identification instead of individualization.


    One question that has come up is “What was the reason behind our “strategy”?”, if that is what you would like to call it, and how was it developed in regards to the issue of identification vs. individualization in our Frye Hearing?  Truth be told, until the line of questioning was presented by defense, and Glenn and Cedric heard my response, they really didn’t know precisely how I was going to address the subject.  In fact, we (Glenn, Cedric and myself) did not have any pretrial meetings to discuss the alignment or misalignment of our approach.  We knew how each other felt on the subject and when it came up in trial I simply stated what I did as an examiner. 


    The issue of error rates factored into the Maryland v. Rose decision.  And yes, zero error rate and the chance of someone else sharing these features being zero are two different things, but the commonality here is that the court was hung up on a science appearing to claim infallibility.  Now I do think what Meagher said was technically right.  A theoretical model can have zero error, and by testifying the way he did in saying that any error would be the result of the examiner, this is pretty much dead on (if you consider the theoretical model and the examiner able to be separated).  I think anyone would agree we can make a theoretical model fool-proof, but the actual practical application of the theoretical model is where things start to fall apart.  Unforeseen problems, uncalculated errors and suddenly that perfect model on paper begins to not look so perfect.  Considering transcripts are difficult at best to interpret meaning, I don’t think Meagher was claiming infallibility.  I just don’t think he was allowed to clear up for the court that there was a difference between the theoretical model and the practical application of that model. 


    By no means am I dictating how a particular examiner should testify.  But in our Frye Hearing, I tried to clearly state my opinion without overstepping the bounds of science.  In doing so, I resisted stating my results as absolute.  By clarifying that I felt there was a difference between identification and individualization I chose to define something that at this point still remains undefined by SWGFAST.  In the end, I felt this was necessary given the line of questioning and not wanting to claim infallibility. 


    In the Hull case, we attempted to present the latent print evidence transparently and in a manner which could be justified with the current research and technology.  The court did find us to be believable and convincing even without the absolute claims.  In the end, my opinion is that you can’t separate the examiner from the theoretical model, and with the theoretical model being only part of the equation, to make the claim that the chance someone else could share these features is zero (individualization), we may not be able to always defend that claim.  We can however be certain of our decision to report an identification once all the evidence is weighed and we have reached an opinion.  And that is why I testified to an identification and not an individualization. 




    Joshua Bergeron

    Forensic Scientist II, CLPE

    Minnesota BCA


Feel free to pass The Detail along to other examiners.  This is a free newsletter FOR latent print examiners, BY latent print examiners. There are no copyrights on The Detail content and as always, the website is open for all to visit! 


If you have not yet signed up to receive the Weekly Detail in YOUR e-mail inbox, go ahead and join the list now so you don't miss out!  (To join this free e-mail newsletter, enter your name and e-mail address on the following page:  You will be sent a Confirmation e-mail... just click on the link in that e-mail, or paste it into an Internet Explorer address bar, and you are signed up!)  If you have problems receiving the Detail from a work e-mail address, there have been past issues with department e-mail filters considering the Detail as potential unsolicited e-mail.  Try subscribing from a home e-mail address or contact your IT department to allow e-mails from Topica.  Members may unsubscribe at any time.  If you have difficulties with the sign-up process or have been inadvertently removed from the list, e-mail me personally at and I will try to work things out.

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

Have a GREAT week!