September 2007Volume 3, Number 2
Table of Contents

Fingerprint Evidence Criminal Practice Guide II

Checklist: The Evidence Behind the Fingerprint Match

In discovery and the investigation, make every effort to obtain the following about how the fingerprints were lifted and preserved:

1. reports made by police relative to the lifting, preservation, or identification of the latent prints;

2. reports sent to or received from other law enforcement agencies regarding the lifting, preservation or identification of prints;

3. items that yielded alleged fingerprints of the defendant;

4. photographs of the latent prints, including negatives, as well as documentation of any other means of latent print preservation or reproduction (e.g., lasers);

5. known prints of the defendant, not limited to only those taken upon his arrest in connection with this case;

6. witness affidavits, notes, and reports prepared in connection with the fingerprint evidence;

7. the process involved in the lifting of the latent prints; and

8. the process that preserved the latent prints.

Law Enforcement and Expert Witnesses

You will need information about the experts who have examined the prints, those who will testify--whether prosecution or defense, your own or your adversary's--and law enforcement personnel who had any involvement with the latent or rolled prints. The following information is geared toward the qualifications of the witness to testify and opportunities for cross-examination at trial:

1. résumé of all expert and fingerprint witnesses;

2. forensic experience;

3. extent to which the witness works for the police and/or prosecution;

4. salary and/or fee per job;

5. past history of errors in photographing fingerprints;

6. past history of misconduct, including but not limited to falsification of fingerprint evidence;

7. past history of destruction of fingerprint evidence;

8. training and education in preservation techniques, such as attendance at training course sponsored by law enforcement or the International Association for Identification (IAI);

9. membership in any professional organizations associated with preservation of fingerprint evidence;

10. professional papers published;

11. teaching positions held;

12. the preserver's knowledge of the methodologies available for the preservation of prints to demonstrate the limitations of his or her technique or experience;

13. steps taken in application of the methodology to the prints in this case;

14. documentation of disciplinary action, suspension, termination, or lawsuits against anyone who participated in the lifting, preservation, or identification of the prints;

15. documentation of disciplinary action, suspension, termination, or lawsuits against anyone who will appear as prosecution fingerprint witnesses;

16. documentation of any prior training or experience of law enforcement personnel who lifted and/or preserved the prints;

17. documentation of training or experience of any expert or expert witness who compared the latent and rolled prints;

18. prior testimony given by any of the prosecution's fingerprint witnesses as to their prior conduct of fingerprint-related investigations and/or identifications. How many cases has the witness testified in? What was the name, subject matter, and result of each case with respect to the role that fingerprint evidence played?

Testing and Methodology

To ensure that the lifting, preservation, and comparison of the fingerprints were conducted properly and to determine whether the matching of the prints was suspect, find:

1. documentation of any tests or experiments made with respect to the fingerprint evidence, and their results; and

2. documentation of the use of each methodology employed in lifting, preserving, and identifying fingerprints followed in the jurisdiction.

Notice of Local Practices and Trial Evidence

With the attitude that surprises at trial are not good and that a bad surprise may mean a missed plea negotiation opportunity for the defendant or the government, try to obtain notice and copies of any demonstrative exhibits that the adversary intends to use at trial.

An effective line of cross-examination may be to compare rules for each step in the fingerprint evidence process and how it was actually conducted in the case. To determine whether the rules were followed and whether this type of witness examination is appropriate, obtain copies of local law enforcement manuals, as well as manuals used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the IAI.

Go to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's web site to determine whether prints were properly lifted, preserved, and examined. See The site has a Handbook of Forensic Services. Unfortunately, a valuable publication about digital imaging of fingerprints, entitled "The Legal Ramifications of Digital Imaging Technology" (discussing the technology and cases in which it has been challenged) is no longer available from the web site. For more information about fingerprint training and services for law enforcement agencies, see and org/lpu.htm.

© 2007 Thomson/West

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