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.
Here are few notable books on fingerprint applications and history, which can be viewed or previewed online.
- Courtroom Testimony for the Fingerprint Expert (2nd ed. 2007)
- Science of Fingerprints Classification and Uses (FBI)
- Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification (2002)
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).
- Maryland v. Rose, No. K06-0545 (Md. Cir. Ct. Oct. 23, 2007)
- Commonwealth v Patterson, 445 Mass. 626, 840 N.E.2d 12 (2005)
- United States v. Llera-Plaza [II], 188 F. Supp. 2d 549 (E.D. Pa. 2002)
- United States v. Havvard, 260 F.3d 597 (7th Cir. 2001)
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.
- Can Fingerprints Lie?: Re-weighing Fingerprint Evidence in Criminal Jury Trials, 31 Am. J. Crim. L. 1 (2003)(TOC only)
- Cautionary Note about Fingerprint Analysis and Reliance on Digital Technology, 89(6) Judicature 334 (2006)
- Challenge of Fingerprint Comparison Opinion in the Defense of a Criminally Charged Client, 19 Ga. St. U. L. Rev. 705 (2003)
- Critical Analysis of Selected Features of Fingerprinting in Forensic Science and Law: Investigative Applications in Criminal, Civil and Family Justice (CRC/Taylor & Francis 2006)(preview)
- Dark and Stormy Night: The Mystery of the Missing Science in Fingerprint Identification, 75 Def. Couns. J. 47 (2008)
- Defense Challenge to Fingerprints, 40 Crim. L. Bull. 213 (2004)
- Myth of Fingerprints [Fingerprint Evidence in the 21st Century], Champion, Sept./Oct. 2003, at 36
- Fingerprint Evidence in an Age of DNA Profiling, 67 Brooklyn L. Rev. 13 (2001)
- Fingerprint Evidence, 13 J.L. & Pol’y 143 (2005)
- Fingerprint Identification: How “The Gold Standard of Evidence” Could Be Worth Its Weight, 32 Am. J. Crim. L. 265 (2005)
- Fingerprints and the Daubert Standard for Admission of Scientific Evidence: Why Fingerprints Fail and a Proposed Remedy, 46 Ariz. L. Rev. 519 (2004)
- Fingerprints Meet Daubert: The Myth of Fingerprint “Science” Is Revealed, 75 S. Cal. L. Rev. 605 (2002)
- How Can We Improve the Reliability of Fingerprint Identification, 90(2) Judicature 55 (2006)
- Individualization Fallacy in Forensic Science Evidence, 61 Vanderbilt L. Rev. 199 (2008)
- Is Fingerprint Identification Valid? Rhetorics of Reliability in Fingerprint Proponents’ Discourse, 28 Law & Policy 109 (2006)
- Latent Justice: Daubert’s Impact on the Evaluation of Fingerprint Identification Testimony, 70 Fordham L. Rev. 2819 (2002)
- Legal and Scientific Evaluation of Forensic Science (Especially Fingerprint Expert Testimony), 33 Seton Hall L. Rev. 1167 (2003)
- Lessons From the Brandon Mayfield Case, Champion, April 2005, at 42
- More Than Zero–Accounting for Error in Latent Fingerprint Identification, 95 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 985 (2005)
- Out of the Daubert Fire and into the Fryeing Pan? Self-Acceptance Versus Meta-Expertise and the Admissibility of Latent Print Evidence in Frye Jurisdictions, SSRN (2007)
- Prevalence and Potential Causes of Wrongful Conviction by Fingerprint Evidence, 37 Golden Gate U. L. Rev. 39 (2006)
- Validity of Latent Fingerprint Identification: Confessions of a Fingerprinting Moderate, SSRN (2007)
- Why Experts Make Errors, 56(4) Journal of Forensic Identification 600 (2006)
Some unreported cases challenging the use or validity of fingerprint identification and related developments may be found in news and magazine reports.
- Do Fingerprints Lie?, New Yorker, May 27, 2002
- Fingerprinting’s Reliability Draws Growing Court Challenges, New York Times, April 7, 2001
- How Far Should Fingerprints Be Trusted?, New Scientist, Sept. 19, 2005
- Investigation: Forensic Evidence in the Dock, New Scientist, Jan. 28, 2004, letter in response, On the Reliability of Fingerprint Evidence, New Scientist, Sept. 14, 2005 (50K study)
- Justice, FBI to Overhaul Fingerprint and Case Management Systems, Government Computer News, Aug. 29, 2005
- Mark of Innocence, Guardian, April 18, 2006
- Real Crime 1,000 Errors in Fingerprint Matching Every Year, LiveScience, Sept 13, 2005
- Reliability of Fingerprint Identification – A Case Report, Forensic-Evidence.com, Jan. 18, 2002
- Victims of Police Fingerprint Debacle Claim Slander by Police Computers, Launch Website to Inform Public of a Danger “Scarier than Minority Report!”, PRWeb, May 7, 2004
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 Capture Challenges and Opportunities (DHS)
- Fingerprint Recognition (NSTC)
- Fingerprint Research (NIST)
- Fingerprint Research and Evaluation at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
- Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (FBI)
- Method for Fingerprint Identification (Interpol)
- Processing Guide for Developing Latent Fingerprints (FBI)
- Review of the FBI’s Handling of the Brandon Mayfield Case (OIG)
- Scientific Working Group on Friction Ridge Analysis, Study and Technology (SWGFAST)
These materials focus on fabricated fingerprint evidence and its implications. See generally Forensic Fraud Archive (Forensic Solutions).
- Chronological Review of Fingerprint Forgery, 44 J. Forensic Sci. 963 (1999)
- Detection of Fraudulent Fingerprints (Kansas IAI)
- Fingerprint Forgery a Survey, 46(3) J Forensic Sci. 731 (2001)
- Latent Fingerprint Fabrication (Iowa IAI)
- New York State Police Troop C Scandal (Wikipedia)
Association sites (and their affiliates) provide links to reports, web sources, and archives of newsletters that cover a wide range of issues.
- Fingerprint Society (UK)
- International Association for Identification (IAI)
- Southern California Association of Fingerprint Officers (SCAFO)
Bibliographies and Reference Sources
These are bibliographies, online libraries and other reference sites that contain large collections of materials concerning fingerprint analysis and litigation.
- Complete Latent Print Examination (CLPEX)
- Fingerprint (Wikipedia)
- Fingerprint Bibliographic References (Kruglick’s Forensic Resource Site)
- Fingerprint Evidence (About.com)
- Fingerprint Evidence (Crime and Clues)
- Fingerprint Terms (Michele Triplett)
- Fingerprint Webography (DMOZ)
- Fingerprints (NLADA Forensic Library)
- Fingerprints (Reddy’s Forensic Page)
- Fingerprints (Zeno’s Forensic Site)
- Friction Ridge Evidence (Forensic-Evidence.com)
- Latent Print Examination (Ed German)