Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Study of faulty fingerprints debunks forensic science ’zero error’ claim

14.09.2005


Set of known errors is merely tip of the iceberg, UCI researcher says



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.

Cole’s study is the first to analyze all publicly known mistaken fingerprint matches. In analyzing these cases of faulty matches dating from 1920, Cole suggests that the 22 exposed incidents, including eight since 1999, are merely the tip of the iceberg. Despite the publicly acknowledged cases of error, fingerprint examiners have long held that fingerprint identification is “infallible,” and testified in court that their error rate for matching fingerprints is zero.


“Rather than blindly insisting there is zero error in fingerprint matching, we should acknowledge the obvious, study the errors openly and find constructive ways to prevent faulty evidence from being used to convict innocent people,” said Cole, an assistant professor of criminology, law and society.

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

Cole’s data set represents a small portion of actual fingerprint errors because it includes only those publicly exposed cases of mistaken matches. The majority of the cases discussed in this study were discovered only through extremely fortuitous circumstances, such as a post-conviction DNA test, the intervention of foreign police and even a deadly lab accident that led to the re-evaluation of evidence.

One highly publicized example is that of Brandon Mayfield, the Portland lawyer who was arrested and held for two weeks as a suspect in the Madrid train bombings in 2004. FBI investigators matched prints at the scene to Mayfield, and an independent examiner verified the match. But Spanish National Police examiners insisted the prints did not match Mayfield and eventually identified another man who matched the prints. The FBI acknowledged the error and Mayfield was released.

Wrongful convictions on the basis of faulty evidence are supposed to be prevented 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 before declaring the print a match; and having independent experts examine the prints on behalf of the defendant. However, each of these safeguards failed in cases Cole studied. In fact, in four of the cases, independent experts verified the faulty matches.

Despite print examiners’ zero-mistake claim, Cole points out that proficiency tests conducted since 1983 show an aggregate error rate of 0.8 percent. Though that may seem small, when multiplied by the large number of cases U.S. crime laboratories processed in 2002, it suggests there could be as many as 1,900 mistaken fingerprint matches made that year alone.

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

About the University of California, Irvine: Celebrating 40 years of innovation, the University of California, Irvine is a top-ranked university dedicated to research, scholarship and community service. Founded in 1965, UCI is among the fastest-growing University of California campuses, with more than 24,000 undergraduate and graduate students and about 1,400 faculty members. The second-largest employer in dynamic Orange County, UCI contributes an annual economic impact of $3 billion.

Christine Byrd | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.today.uci.edu
http://www.uci.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT

nachricht Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>