Thursday, May 8, 2014

Fingerprints; Something the jury should know: Why they may not be unique, by Science Correspondent Sarah Knapton. The Telegraph.

STORY: "Why your fingerprints may not be unique," by reporter Sarah Knapton, published by the Telegraph on April 21, 2014. (Thanks to the Wrongful Convictions Blog for bringing this story to our attention);

SUB-HEADING: "Assumption that everyone has a unique fingerprint from which they can be identified through a computor database is flawed, says Home Office expert Mike Silverman;

SUB-HEADING: "Nobody has yet proved that fingerprints are unique and families can share elements of the same pattern."

GIST: "Fingerprint evidence linking criminals to crime scenes has played a fundamental role in convictions in Britain since the first forensic laboratory was set up in Scotland Yard in 1901. But the basic assumption that everyone has a unique fingerprint from which they can be quickly identified through a computer database is flawed, an expert has claimed. Mike Silverman, who introduced the first automated fingerprint detection system to the Metropolitan Police, claims that human error, partial prints and false positives mean that fingerprints evidence is not as reliable as is widely believed. Nobody has yet proved that fingerprints are unique and families can share elements of the same pattern.".........“It requires an expert examiner to determine whether a print taken from crime scene and one taken from a subject are likely to have originated from the same finger.” However there are numerous cases in which innocent people have been wrongly singled out by means of fingerprint evidence. In 2004, Brandon Mayfield, was wrongly linked to the Madrid train bombings by FBI fingerprint experts in the United States. Shirley McKie, a Scottish police officer, was wrongly accused of having been at a murder scene in 1997 after a print supposedly matching hers was found near the body. “What both cases clearly demonstrate is that, despite the way fingerprint evidence is portrayed in the media, all comparisons ultimately involve some human element and, as a result, they are vulnerable to human error,” said Mr Silverman who has recently published his memoirs ‘Written in Blood’ and now works as a private forensic consultant. “And the fingerprint often isn’t perfect, particularly at a crime scene. It might be dirty or smudged. There are all sorts of things that reduce the accuracy. “I think it is important that juries are aware of this."
The entire story can be found at:

See Wrongful Convictions Blog entry: Science and Technology Advisor Phil Locke: (His big caps!) "It’s true that it has never been proven that your fingerprints are unique. But it’s also never been proven that they’re not. The problem is THERE IS NO DATA sufficient to prove either case. There is not even enough data to be able to determine the statistical probability of occurrence of a match. Fingerprint examiners CANNOT declare 100% certainty. That’s rubbish. However, the interesting logical quirk of this is that fingerprints CAN be used to EXCLUDE a suspect with absolute certainty."


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