Complied by Don Penven
Terrorist Bombing in Madrid
In March 11, 2004, terrorists bombed several trains in Madrid, Spain, killing 191 people and injuring more than 1,800. A few days later the Spanish police sent a latent fingerprint electronically to the FBI’s Latent Print Unit (LPU).
The LPU identified the latent print from Madrid as belonging to an Oregon resident, whose home and office were searched and his computer and files were seized. He was arrested and imprisoned for 15 days in May 2004. He was released after the fingerprints were matched to an Algerian man.
This entire affair cast serious doubt upon the FBI’s ability to affect a positive fingerprint identification,
What is a Daubert Hearing?
Quite often, fingerprint identifications are challenged in court—despite the fact that fingerprints have been the primary means of identification for the past 100 years. When such challenges are made by defense attorneys, the trial judge will often schedule a “Daubert Hearing.”
A Daubert hearing is, in effect, a mini-trial within a trial, conducted before the judge without the jury present, over the validity and admissibility of expert opinion testimony. This requires the judge to be certain that the expert's testimony is relevant to the matter at hand and that it is positioned on a reliable foundation.
A conclusion will qualify as scientific knowledge if the expert can demonstrate that the evidence results from sound "scientific methodology" and is derived from the scientific method.
According to Wikipedia, the Supreme Court defined "scientific methodology" as the process of formulating hypotheses and then conducting experiments to prove or falsify the hypothesis, and provided a nondispositive, nonexclusive, "flexible" test for establishing its "validity":
2. Subjected to peer review and publication
3. Known or potential error rate.
4. The existence and maintenance of standards and controls concerning its operation.5. Degree to which the theory and technique is generally accepted by a relevant scientific community.
How Latent Examiners use ACE-V to ensure accurate identifications
ACE-V is an acronym for Analysis, Comparison, Evaluation and Verification:
Analysis: The first step is analysis. Analysis is a thorough examination of the latent print. The latent print would be examined to determine the ridge formations that exist at three levels of detail. Level 1 detail refers to the first appearance of the print noticed at the beginning of an examination. Generally, “Level 1” refers to the overall pattern or ridge flow tendencies of the print. Level 2 detail refers to the next features observed, generally those with a physical dimension on the order of magnitude of a ridge width. The so--called “Minutiae” or “points,” are level 2 details. Level 3 detail refers to smaller features generally observed under magnification. Level 3 features are normally contained within a single ridge, such as shapes and positions of sweat pores (poroscopy) or distinctive shapes on the edge of a ridge (edgeoscopy). Incipient ridge (ridges that never fully developed) shapes are also usually considered level 3 details, but the presence of incipient ridges in general would be a level 1 consideration.
Comparison: During the comparison phase the examiner concentrates primarily on the known, or inked, prints. The examiner searches each inked print in turn, observing all three levels of detail in a search for an image that is consistent with the detail found in the latent print during its analysis, and that has the target selected for the search.
Evaluation: In this phase, the two prints are examined together, side by side. The examiner finds features first in the unknown print, then in the known print, and then evaluates the corresponding features to determine if they are within tolerance for the level of clarity that exists in the images. In this manner, the examiner goes back and forth between the two prints, finding features first in the unknown, and then evaluating their appearance in the known print.
Verification: The general rule is that all positive identification opinions must be verified by a second qualified expert. The second expert may repeat the entire process, but the comparison may not be blind. That is, the second expert may know from the outset that another examiner has already made the positive identification.
For more information on fingerprint science, you may download the free training manual, Latent Fingerprints, From Crime Scene to Courtroom
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