The FBI and the Myth of the Fingerprint
2013-08-16 0:00

By Jeffrey St. Clair and Alexander Cockburn | CounterPunch

The real crime is in the crime lab

Few law enforcement institutions have been so thoroughly discredited as the FBI’s forensic lab. In 1997 the Bureau’s inspector general of the time issued a devastating report, stigmatizing one instance after another of mishandled and contaminated evidence, inept technicians, and outright fabrication. The IG concluded that there were “serious and credible allegations of incompetence” and perjured courtroom testimony.

Our view is that taken as a whole, forensic evidence as used by prosecutors is inherently untrustworthy. For example, for years many people went to prison on the basis of the claims of a North Carolina anthropologist, Louise Robbins. She helped send people to prison or to Death Row with her self-proclaimed power to identify criminals through shoe prints. As an excellent recent Chicago Tribune series on forensic humbug recalled, on occasion she even said she could use the method to determine a person’s height, sex and race. Robbins died in 1987, her legacy compromised by the conclusion of many Appeals Courts that her methodology was bosh. There have been similarly hollow claims for lip prints and ear prints, all of them invoked by their supporters as “100 per cent reliable” and believed by juries too easily impressed by passionate invocations to 100 percent reliable scientific data.

Of course the apex forensic hero of prosecutors, long promoted as the bottom line in reliability–at least until the arrival of DNA matching–has been the fingerprint.

Fingerprints entered the arsenal of police and prosecutors in the late nineteenth century, touted as “scientific” in the manner of other fashionable methods of that time in the identification of supposed criminals, such as phrenology. A prime salesman was Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s cousin and a founding huckster for the bogus “science” of eugenics. Actually fingerprints, at least in modern times, found their original use in the efforts of a British colonial administrator to intimidate his Indian laborers (whose faces he could not distinguish) from turning up more than once to get paid. He’d make a great show of scrutinizing the fingerprints he insisted they daub on his ledger book.

Then, as now, the use of the so-called “unique fingerprint” has been histrionic, not exactly scientific. In 1995, so the Chicago Tribune series discovered, “one of the only independent proficiency tests of fingerprint examiners in U.S. crime labs found that nearly a quarter reported false positives, meaning they declared prints identical even though they were not–the sort of mistakes that can lead to wrongful convictions or arrests.”

Decade after decade people have been sent to prison for years or dispatched to the death cell, solely on the basis of a single, even a partial print. So great is the resonance of the phrase “a perfect match” that defense lawyers throw in the towel, as judge and jury listen to the assured conclusions of the FBI’s analysts who virtually monopolize the fingerprint industry in the U.S.A. Overseas, in London’s Scotland Yard for example, the same mesmerizing “certainty” held sway, and still does.

In the U.S.A., part of the mystique stems from the “one discrepancy rule” which has supposedly governed the FBI’s fingerprint analysis. The rule says that identifications are subject to a standard of “100 per cent certainty” where a single difference in appearance is supposed to preclude identification.

The 1997 lab scandals threw a shadow over the FBI’s forensic procedures as a whole and the criminal defense bar began to raise protests against prosecutorial use of latent fingerprint identification evidence, as produced by FBI procedures. In 2002 Judge Louis Pollak, presiding over in a case in Pennsylvania, initially ruled that the FBI’s fingerprint matching criteria fell below new standards of forensic reliability (the Daubert Standards) stipulated by the Supreme Court. Ultimately the judge was persuaded that the FBI’s fingerprint lab had never made a mistake.


Read the full article at:

SEE: The Innocence Project

Related Articles
FBI Admits to Flying Drones Over US Without Warrants
Calls for New Investigations into the FBI Todashev Killing
Homeland Security chair: FBI not cooperating with Boston Bombing Probe
Hours Before His Death Michael Hastings Contacted Wikileaks Attorney Said FBI Was Investigating Him
Again!? FBI foils supposed "planned terror attack"
Did the FBI Just Bungle The Boston Bomb Plot, or Did It Actually Create It?
FBI’s History of Handing "Terror Suspects" Live Explosives
Revisit: The FBI Allowed the 1993 WTC Bombing to Happen
California prisons sterilized female inmates without permission
Thanks to For-Profit Prisons, Louisiana Has Triple the Incarceration Rate of Iran
The Prison Industrial Complex
Apple’s new iPhone may have fingerprint sensor - Biometric Kit
Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform
NYPD begins biometric iris scans upon arrest

Latest News from our Front Page

ISIS to France: "We will be coming. Victory has been promised to us by Allah"
2015-11-26 3:33
Homegrown French ISIS fighters have issued a chilling threat of new attacks on France just 24 hours after the terrorist group used movie footage of the Eiffel Tower's collapse in another video.  A balaclava-clad militant is seen warning 'we will be coming, we will come to crush your country' in footage posted on Twitter earlier today. It is unclear where the film ...
ISIS teenage 'poster girl' Samra Kesinovic 'beaten to death' as she tried to flee the group
2015-11-26 1:07
She appeared in social media images for the group carrying a Kalashnikov and surrounded by armed men A teenage girl who ran away from her Vienna home to join Isis in Syria has reportedly been beaten to death by the group after trying to escape. Samra Kesinovic, 17, travelled to Syria last year with her friend Sabina Selimovic, 15. The two became a ...
The Right Stuff's flagship podcast "The Daily Shoah" has been censored by Soundcloud
2015-11-25 22:56
Editor's note: The PC corporate moral police strike again. Just as Radio 3Fourteen & Red Ice Radio were censored from iTunes, The Daily Shoah was pulled from Soundcloud today. As per usual, there is a double standard, they allow any kind of anti-White material: No counter culture humor making fun of the genocidal mainstream garbage is allowed! ... From: Soundcloud took it upon ...
Merkel Welcomes A Million More: Vows To Stand By Refugee Policy Despite Security Fears
2015-11-25 21:05
Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed on Wednesday to stick to her open-door refugee policy, defying criticism at home and abroad which has intensified due to growing fears about a potential security risk after the Islamist attacks in Paris. Conservative Merkel faces splits in her right-left coalition and pressure from EU states, including France, over her insistence that Germany can cope with up ...
Paris Terrorist Was Gay 'Rent Boy', On The Run From Islamic State And Police
2015-11-25 20:16
The elusive eighth Paris attacker and one of three brothers implicated in the atrocity reportedly frequented gay clubs before the attack. He may have backed out of his mission at the last minute, and is possibly on the run from Islamic State as well as authorities. “We had him down as a rent boy, he was always hanging out with that ...
More News »