Revisiting Fingerprints

Posted by RobertPerez on February 15, 2012

As a reader of Washington Criminal Defense you probably already know about the Brandon Mayfield case,1 the highly publicized story of a mistaken fingerprint attribution that put an innocent lawyer in jail for weeks. And you may even know that, after holding Mayfield in custody as a terrorist suspect, the FBI eventually released him, admitted their mistake, and issued the Oregon lawyer an unprecedented apology.

But did you know that there have been dozens of other confi rmed cases of mistaken fi ngerprint identifi cation, suggesting uncounted numbers of other false positives escaping detection? Despite abundant evidence of fl at-out erroneous attributions, latent fingerprint identifi cation enjoys an unparalleled aura of infallibility among the forensic sciences. Even more astonishing in view of this record is the fact that fi ngerprint proponents continue to proclaim a zero-error rate. How can this be? In this article I explore the mythology of infallibility surrounding fi ngerprinting — and it is mythology — and suggest avenues of attack for the criminal defense lawyer.

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