Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Study Of Faulty Fingerprints Debunks Forensic Science 'Zero Error' Claim

Date:
September 13, 2005
Source:
University of California - Irvine
Summary:
While forensic scientists have long claimed fingerprint evidence is infallible, the widely publicized error that landed an innocent American behind bars as a suspect in the Madrid train bombing alerted the nation to the potential flaws in the system. Now, UC Irvine criminologist Simon Cole has shown that not only do errors occur, but as many as a thousand incorrect fingerprint "matches" could be made each year in the U.S. This is in spite of safeguards intended to prevent errors.

Related Articles


Cole’s study is the first to analyze all publiclyknown mistaken fingerprint matches. In analyzing these cases of faultymatches dating from 1920, Cole suggests that the 22 exposed incidents,including eight since 1999, are merely the tip of the iceberg. Despitethe publicly acknowledged cases of error, fingerprint examiners havelong held that fingerprint identification is “infallible,” andtestified in court that their error rate for matching fingerprints iszero.

“Rather than blindly insisting there is zero error infingerprint matching, we should acknowledge the obvious, study theerrors openly and find constructive ways to prevent faulty evidencefrom being used to convict innocent people,” said Cole, an assistantprofessor of criminology, law and society.

The study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology.

Cole’sdata set represents a small portion of actual fingerprint errorsbecause it includes only those publicly exposed cases of mistakenmatches. The majority of the cases discussed in this study werediscovered only through extremely fortuitous circumstances, such as apost-conviction DNA test, the intervention of foreign police and even adeadly lab accident that led to the re-evaluation of evidence.

Onehighly publicized example is that of Brandon Mayfield, the Portlandlawyer who was arrested and held for two weeks as a suspect in theMadrid train bombings in 2004. FBI investigators matched prints at thescene to Mayfield, and an independent examiner verified the match. ButSpanish National Police examiners insisted the prints did not matchMayfield and eventually identified another man who matched the prints.The FBI acknowledged the error and Mayfield was released.

Wrongfulconvictions on the basis of faulty evidence are supposed to beprevented by four safeguards: having print identifications “verified”by additional examiners; ensuring the examiners are competent;requiring a high number of matching points in the ridges beforedeclaring the print a match; and having independent experts examine theprints on behalf of the defendant. However, each of these safeguardsfailed in cases Cole studied. In fact, in four of the cases,independent experts verified the faulty matches.

Despite printexaminers’ zero-mistake claim, Cole points out that proficiency testsconducted since 1983 show an aggregate error rate of 0.8 percent.Though that may seem small, when multiplied by the large number ofcases U.S. crime laboratories processed in 2002, it suggests therecould be as many as 1,900 mistaken fingerprint matches made that yearalone.

“While we don’t know how many fingerprint errors arecaught in the lab and then swept under the rug – or, worse, how manyhave still not been caught and may have resulted in a wrongfulconviction – we clearly need a full evaluation of the errors,” Colesaid. “The argument that fingerprints are infallible evidence is simplyunacceptable.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Irvine. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of California - Irvine. "Study Of Faulty Fingerprints Debunks Forensic Science 'Zero Error' Claim." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 September 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/09/050913124509.htm>.
University of California - Irvine. (2005, September 13). Study Of Faulty Fingerprints Debunks Forensic Science 'Zero Error' Claim. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/09/050913124509.htm
University of California - Irvine. "Study Of Faulty Fingerprints Debunks Forensic Science 'Zero Error' Claim." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/09/050913124509.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

IKEA Desk Converts From Standing to Sitting With One Button

IKEA Desk Converts From Standing to Sitting With One Button

Buzz60 (Oct. 24, 2014) — IKEA is out with a new convertible desk that can convert from a sitting desk to a standing one with just the push of a button. Jen Markham explains. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Protective Suits Being Made in China

Ebola Protective Suits Being Made in China

AFP (Oct. 24, 2014) — A factory in China is busy making Ebola protective suits for healthcare workers and others fighting the spread of the virus. Duration: 00:38 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Real-Life Transformer Robot Walks, Then Folds Into a Car

Real-Life Transformer Robot Walks, Then Folds Into a Car

Buzz60 (Oct. 24, 2014) — Brave Robotics and Asratec teamed with original Transformers toy company Tomy to create a functional 5-foot-tall humanoid robot that can march and fold itself into a 3-foot-long sports car. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Police Testing New Gunfire Tracking Technology

Police Testing New Gunfire Tracking Technology

AP (Oct. 24, 2014) — A California-based startup has designed new law enforcement technology that aims to automatically alert dispatch when an officer's gun is unholstered and fired. Two law enforcement agencies are currently testing the technology. (Oct. 24) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins