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The Real Crime: 1,000 Errors in Fingerprint Matching Every Year

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posted on Sep, 13 2005 @ 06:15 PM

Nobody knows how many people sit wrongfully convicted in prison due to errors in fingerprint matching. But a new study suggests there could be a thousand or more unknown identification errors a year in the United States.

Criminologist Simon Cole of the University of California at Irvine examined all 22 known cases of fingerprint mistakes made since 1920.

Most of the 22 cases were revealed only through "extremely fortuitous circumstances," such as a post-conviction DNA test, the intervention of foreign police and in one case a deadly lab accident that led to the re-evaluation of evidence, Cole said today.

One highly publicized example was the case of Brandon Mayfield, a Portland lawyer 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.

i thought, and i be you too, that this was the best way to identify a person that was in a crime scene...

DNA, is also a very good way, but this way is faster (i think)...

i can't believe this way could have errors...

posted on Sep, 13 2005 @ 08:32 PM
Of course it could happen. Statistics such as these are what lawyers love, because of the percent of error I imagine they are capable of hiring a personal biologist/forensic expert to give their own testimony of the matching of fingerprints.

Probably small town where DNA will be demanded by the lawyer but because of the spending of the town this is simply an impossiblity and thus case dismissed for lack of evidence.

posted on Sep, 13 2005 @ 09:01 PM
From the article:

Other studies have shown an error rate of 0.8 percent in matching prints.

That means fingerprinting has a 99.2% success rate. That's pretty good. It's certainly not foolproof, though, but especially if other evidence is available, I think it's good enough in most cases. (To put it another way, 1 in 125 fingerprinting cases are in error.) In conjunction with DNA testing, eyewitness statements, forensics, videotape, etc, I think we can be fairly certain in the vast majority of cases that we have the right person. Unfortunately, mistakes still happen, and I doubt any system is going to be perfect.

posted on Sep, 13 2005 @ 09:03 PM

Originally posted by they see ALL

i can't believe this way could have errors...

We are human there will always be room for errors.

posted on Sep, 13 2005 @ 09:25 PM

Originally posted by SpittinCobra
We are human there will always be room for errors.

obviously yes...

but, each human has his / her own finger-print...

so, when maching, it should be a fool-proof...

posted on Sep, 13 2005 @ 09:26 PM
Not when people lie about who they are.

If you have never been printed, and you have fake ID, those prints goes to that name not your name.

posted on Sep, 14 2005 @ 01:28 PM
Hey, they see ALL, why don't you try?

It's hard. They all look the same, even if they're slightly different. I'm actually surprised there's only 1,000 mistakes a year. That's why we don't have one method, we have multiple methods (from DNA to good ol' Sherlockian deduction) of figuring something out. A much bigger worry? 4 college kids die a day from alcohol alone.

posted on Sep, 14 2005 @ 01:48 PM
Sometimes this margin of error is acceptable, sometimes it isn't. If you're talking about a first degree murder trial, no margin of error is accetable. The punishment is so severe that any errors in evidence, any inconsistencies, any doubt, is cause for acquital.

Judges know about the margin of error, lawyers know, cops know, and criminals damn sure know. In other words, it's not a secret. Even DNA is not foolproof, it has a margin of error as well.

What's important in determining guilt is the burden of circumstantial evidence, the resources available to the prosecution and defense, and of course the composition of the jury is the key factor in jury trials.

Point being, there's no particular cause for alarm regarding the fingerprint analysis issue. There's a lot of injustice in the justice system, but it doesn't really have anything to do with fingerprints per se. It has more to do with economic clout and the occasional activist judge or manipulated jury.

Fingerprinting is still quite reliable when used to back up damning circumstantial evidence. For example, if an eyewitness places you outside a convenience store around midnight, someone wearing the same clothes gets recorded robbing the place just after midnight, your fingerprints are all over the cash register drawer, and your pinto is filled to bursting with dollar bills, slim jims, and snack cakes, when the cops finally pull you over, the case is fairly open and shut.

Under such circumstances, the chance that an innocent man is going to jail is pretty much zero.

In cases held up entirely by fingerprint evidence, especially high-penalty criminal trials, the defense has a very good case, and an even better case on appeals if they happen to lose the first round. The margin of error is sufficient to sway opinion in the absence of other evidence, or in the presence of contradictory evidence.

For example, your fingerprints were on a murder weapon in Tampa, but you have a witness who swears you were in Detroit on the night of the murder, the fingerprints aren't going to send you up the river all by themselves, in the absence of other evidence. Even if they do, even if you do get convicted, you have an excellent case to present to the appeals court.

One of the major problems with the legal system is the speed at which it operates, it can be very, very tedious, a snail's pace. The reason of course is because of the framework of checks and balances in place to ensure no innocent people get caught up in the gears. Mistakes still happen more frequently than anyone would like, but at least there are some protections hardwired.

I've also heard a person's fingerprints can change over time, and make identification impossible, but I've never been able to verify that.

Edit: Oh, and if you ever want to get rid of your fingerprints for whatever reason, I hear you can score the pads with sandpaper and hold your fingertips in fresh squeezed grapefruti juice for 45 minutes or so. It should dissolve all the contours and leave your fingertips smooth as a baby's bum.

Do you propose we ban alcohol, or ban college students?

(It's a sad state of affairs. People consuming watered down poison as a social activity doesn't sit right with my logical mind. I too drink on occasion, but I've never shared the insane desire some college kids have to pickle their brains and their livers before graduation.)

[edit on 14-9-2005 by WyrdeOne]

posted on Sep, 14 2005 @ 03:21 PM

maybe i will


great post...

are you studying law or something???

posted on Sep, 15 2005 @ 04:47 PM

Originally posted by WyrdeOne
Edit: Oh, and if you ever want to get rid of your fingerprints for whatever reason, I hear you can score the pads with sandpaper and hold your fingertips in fresh squeezed grapefruti juice for 45 minutes or so. It should dissolve all the contours and leave your fingertips smooth as a baby's bum.

Ouch!! Will they grow back, or is the removal permanent?

This suddenly reminds me of that Men in Black movie when they were preparing Will Smith to be one of them and that included putting his hands on the fingerprint removal device. Sounded painful.

posted on Oct, 3 2005 @ 10:23 PM
Al Capone actually sanded back the skin on the ends of his fingers hoping it would change his fingerprints. After a long and painful recovery, he found that the fingerprints were exactly the same!

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