Tuesday, April 24, 2012


The Washington Post recently found that the government provided false forensic testimony leading to convictions in hundreds of cases and then inexplicably failed to give this information to the Defense for possible review of wrongful convictions.  The reliability of expert forensic testimony is usually taken for granted in cases in Tampa Bay and Pinellas, even by a Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney who in this blog has written about faulty forensic crime labs leading to unacceptable errors and false testimony.
What are the weaknesses and strengths of Fingerprint analysis in criminal trials in Pinellas and Hillsborough? How accurate is Fingerprint evidence in Florida Courts?
When a fingerprint is detected at a crime scene, later analysis and comparison depends on the age, integrity, quality of the original latent print and how it was processed. As the articles linked with suggest there are significant hurdles for law enforcement to successfully overcome to gain a fingerprint which will be useable for matching purposes. 

Reliability weak points
Matching and interpreting prints can be subjective and vary between examiners, whose level of training can range from formal programs to informal monitoring.

One case study
Houston Police Department Crime Laboratory
In 2009, a Houston police crime lab audit found irregularities in more than half of fingerprint examinations sampled. Officials hired consultants to review 4,300 cases and work through a 6,000 case backlog.

Much of the problem of making an identification based on fingerprint evidence comes into the subjective play over what is a reliable and useable latent print. For example, even as some specialists believe in the impossibility of finding usable prints of a Defendant on a murder victim's body, other experts believe that latent prints on human skin are a hidden evidence which can, with proper care be uncovered. 
When a useable fingerprint exists then the crime scene print is matched to the subject, who one hopes isn't a Pinellas Criminal Defense Lawyer. Yet the matching itself is fraught with uncertainty as experts do not always agree on what constitutes a match. In an interesting news release FDLE (Florida's FBI) noted that it's 'improved matching technology'  had tripled the number of hits within its system. But are all the hits true matches or did FDLE merely reduce the criteria upon which it counts a match?