Thursday, October 28, 2004

His finger prints were all over it

It may be all over for fingerprint evidence. At least for a while.

...the legal system has treated fingerprint comparisons as not simply invaluable, which they unquestionably are, but as essentially infallible - when they are anything but.

Just ask Brandon Mayfield, the Oregon lawyer who was arrested in May, jailed for two weeks and branded a terrorist. FBI experts mistakenly linked his fingerprint to the Madrid train bombing that killed 191 people in March - even though Mayfield has never been to Madrid. The fingerprints were later found by Spanish experts to match a foreign terrorist.

FBI officials have apologized for the error, but they have not yet explained it - which is no surprise to Cole, who has made UCI ground zero for challenging conventional wisdom about fingerprints.

"They can't explain it, because there is a fallacy at work here: the belief that, because all fingerprints are unique, therefore fingerprint evidence is inherently reliable," he says. "It makes sense at first blush, but think about it: No two faces are alike, yet eyewitness identification is difficult and problem-plagued.
The deal is we have no scientific study on how reliable fingerprint examiners are. This is a very big hole. Very big. The article in the Monterey Herald discusses an FBI gag order on the subject. Is this any way to run a legal system which is supposed to work towards justice? So far Ashcroft has nothing to say on the subject. Don't his Christian values require truth over conviction? Maybe not.

BTW there is a similar problem with DNA evidence.

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