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Criminal Law Resources: Fingerprint Evidence Challenges

By Ken Strutin, Published on April 4, 2008

In 1911, the first American court upheld a murder conviction based on fingerprint identification evidence. People v. Jennings, 252 Ill. 534. Nearly a hundred years later, confidence in that identification technique has been eroded by new research and litigation. See, e.g., Maryland v. Rose, No. K06-0545 (MD Cir. Ct. Oct. 19, 2007). See generally Ken Strutin, Criminal Law Forensics: Century of Acceptance May Be Over, New York Law Journal, Jan. 8, 2008, at 5, col. 1. Recent legal scholarship, forensic studies and Frye/Daubert hearings are adding to our understanding of the nature and limits of this commonly used identification method. The new picture that is emerging will impact the administration of justice and sound a tocsin as we move into the era of biometrics.

This article is a collection of select resources published on the web concerning the reliability and admissibility of fingerprint evidence. Links to guides, standards and related materials are listed to provide some background on the processes and application of this identification technique.

Books

Here are few notable books on fingerprint applications and history, which can be viewed or previewed online.

Case Law

In the past few years, there have been some significant decisions arising from challenges to the admissibility of latent print identification evidence. Listed here is only a small sampling of those opinions. See generally Legal Challenges to Fingerprints (Ed German site 2005); Simon Cole, Grandfathering Evidence: Fingerprint Admissibility Rulings From Jennings To Llera Plaza And Back Again, 41 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 1189 (2004).

Scholarly Articles

Legal scholars and forensic professionals have been debating fingerprint identification in law reviews, bar journals and professional association publications. These articles address ongoing research into the forensic aspects of fingerprint identification and revisit the legal analysis for assessing its admissibility.

News Articles

Some unreported cases challenging the use or validity of fingerprint identification and related developments may be found in news and magazine reports.

Guidelines, Standards and Reports

Government agencies and study groups have developed standards for fingerprint collection and analysis. They have also reviewed issues concerning its reliability.

Fingerprint Forgery

These materials focus on fabricated fingerprint evidence and its implications. See generally Forensic Fraud Archive (Forensic Solutions).

Professional Associations

Association sites (and their affiliates) provide links to reports, web sources, and archives of newsletters that cover a wide range of issues.

Bibliographies and Reference Sources

These are bibliographies, online libraries and other reference sites that contain large collections of materials concerning fingerprint analysis and litigation.