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: counterpunch.org




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

Netanyahu ‘spat in our face,’ White House officials said to say
2015-01-23 22:28
The White House’s outrage over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to speak before Congress in March — a move he failed to coordinate with the administration — began to seep through the diplomatic cracks on Friday, with officials telling Haaretz the Israeli leader had “spat” in President Barack Obama’s face. “We thought we’ve seen everything,” the newspaper quoted an unnamed senior ...
The Return of the Protected Jewish Minority in Europe
2015-01-23 2:53
Contrary to the standard narratives of Jewish ‘history,’ a prominent feature of the historical presence of Jews in Europe has been their protected status. The common context for this status was a symbiotic relationship between the Jewish minority and exploitative or tyrannical elites. As agents of the feared elite, as foreigners, as exploiters in their own right, and with interests ...
Truth Revealed: McCain’s ‘Moderate Rebels’ in Syria ARE ISIS
2015-01-23 1:50
Poor John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Washington’s real first couple. They only want to arm the ‘moderate opposition’ in Syria. Three years on, how come their master plan isn’t working, while ISIS has grown so strong? Despite what media lauded as, “the largest demonstration in France’s history – bigger than liberation at the end of WWII!” (can you rightly compare the ...
European 'No-Go' Zones: Fact or Fiction?
2015-01-22 0:37
Comment: This is an interesting article about Muslim no-go Zones in Europe. However, keep in mind that the focus in this piece is not addressing the root of the problem, but a symptom of the problem. Yes, there is an issue with large Islamic colonies in Europe today, but the article mentions nothing about who has changed the immigration laws ...
A Radical Traditionalist Critique of the Anti-Islam Movement
2015-01-22 0:20
The terrorist attack against the staff at the magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris shook an entire continent. In a European climate in which protests against the perceived Islamization of our civilizational sphere becomes ever more widespread, showing in increased electoral success for moderate nationalist parties, as well as in expressions of mass public dissent, the recent resurgence of violent Islamic ...
More News »