The Nando Times  Advertising Info
SearchAbout Us
Front Page
Top Story
Health & Science
Special Reports
News Watcher
News Archive
News Forums
Wireless News
Regional News
Video Vault
Today In Photos
Today In History
TV Listings
Alex's Restaurant
Money Matters
Cyrano Server
Nando Mail
Text | No Ads | User Agreement | Privacy

Nation: Federal judge bans expert testimony about fingerprint evidence

Copyright 2002 AP Online Print Story Email Story Save to your PDA with AvantGo

By JOANN LOVIGLIO, Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (January 10, 2002 11:29 p.m. EST) - A federal judge in Pennsylvania has ruled that experts cannot testify whether a fingerprint taken from a crime scene matches that of a defendant, saying the century-old identification technique is not reliable.

While fingerprints themselves are unique and permanent, the technique to match them is subjective and scientifically unreliable, U.S. District Judge Louis H. Pollak said in a ruling Monday.

The decision involves a death penalty case in which three men are charged with operating a multimillion-dollar drug ring linked to four murders. The ruling applies to all three defendants: Carlos Llera-Plaza, Wilfredo Acosta and Victor Rodriguez.

Jury selection is continuing in the case.

Under the judge's ruling, fingerprint evidence may be presented during the trial, but no testimony is allowed about whether the defendants' prints match prints found at the crime scene.

Fingerprint evidence was first admitted to an American court 99 years ago, but its credibility has been challenged in recent years.

In 1993, a U.S. Supreme Court decision required judges to take a more active role in deciding what scientific evidence to admit. In the case of fingerprints, the guidelines would lead to questions such as: Has the practice of fingerprint identification been adequately tested? What's the error rate? Are there standards and controls?

Under these criteria, critics say, fingerprint identification could be challenged on the grounds that it has not been adequately tested, that the error rate has not been calculated, and that no standards exist for what constitutes a match.

"The judge is making a distinction between the assumption that every fingerprint is unique and the opinions that are yielded by the process," said Edward Imwinkelreid, a law professor at the University of California at Davis and co-author of a text on scientific evidence.

"You don't actually examine the finger; you compare the complete, nearly perfect fingerprint taken at the police station with a partial smudge taken from a crime scene," Imwinkelreid said. "And there's no universal agreement on how many similarities you have to find before you can declare it a match."

Pollak's ruling said experts can testify about and show illustrations of similarities or dissimilarities between "latent" fingerprints left at a crime scene and "rolled" fingerprints on file that the government contends were made by the same person. In turn, defense attorneys can present evidence countering the prosecution's testimony.

Llera-Plaza's lawyer, Jules Epstein, did not return telephone calls seeking comment Thursday. Attorneys for the other defendants could not immediately be determined.

Simon A. Cole, visiting scholar at Cornell University and author of a book on the history of fingerprinting, said he believed Pollak's decision to be the first to limit fingerprint evidence in that way.

"It sends a message to the entire scientific community that no one's exempt from scrutiny," Cole said. "If you want to call yourself a scientist on the witness stand, you better be able to point to scientific research to support your conclusions."

Pollak also ruled prosecutors' decision to seek the death penalty was not racially biased. Lawyers for the Hispanic defendants cited similarities with the case involving mob boss Joseph Merlino and three co-defendants, in which prosecutors did not seek the death penalty.

Pollak said those slayings had been ordered by Ralph Natale, Merlino's predecessor and the government's star witness.

Discuss this story in our news forums:
Name: E-mail:
Comments are posted to a user forum, which can be accessed by other users. It is not a private communication. User agreement

7-Day Archive:   Mon   Tue   Wed   Thu   Fri   Sat   Sun  

Copyright 2002 Nando Media
Do you have some feedback for the Nando Times staff?

MAIN | Nation | World | Sports | SportServer | Politics | Business | Health&Science
Entertainment | Opinions | Technology | Classifieds | Weather


Massachusetts hockey father convicted of involuntary manslaughter

First soldier killed by hostile fire in Afghanistan buried near Washington base

Justices to decide whether judge alone can condemn defendant

Supreme Court takes case on IRS estimates of restaurant tips

Victims' families sue airlines, security companies over Sept. 11 attacks

Suspended Mississippi student holds school officials hostage for 3 hours

ANALYSIS: Conspiracy theories arise from Sept. 11 attacks

Doctors stymied by sick postal worker's negative anthrax test

Rep. Gary Condit faces constituents

Former Los Alamos lab scientist says downloaded files were low priority

September 11th Fund distributed $154.3 million by year's end

Man charged with perjury in Sept. 11 investigation

Statue based on flag-raising firefighters criticized for revision

U.S. Capitol Police officer charged in anthrax hoax

Supreme Court to take up student privacy case

More Americans will lose jobs in 2002, study predicts

Volkswagen recalling New Beetles, other models for faulty exhaust systems

Man detained at New Hampshire airport over bomb humor

CDC head talks anthrax with postal workers

Justices to review punitive damages in disability-rights suits against cities

Jury resumes deliberations in hockey dad trial

Decision to end life support may turn case into homicide, authorities say

Stress disorder found among World Trade Center neighbors

Former Energy chief denies ethnicity influenced Wen Ho Lee case

Malfunctioning passenger plane escorted back to Atlanta

Families of fallen Marines cope with grief

Troops search for bodies of Marines killed in crash of tanker plane

Pilot accused of selling arms to Libya

Irradiated package sickens at least 11 workers, official says

Study examines problems caused by wildlife

First al-Qaida, Taliban prisoners arrive at U.S. base in Cuba

San Francisco Examiner fires top editor