The Reliability of Latent Print Individualization: Brief of Amici Curiae Submitted on Behalf of Scientists and Scholars by the New England Innocence Project, Commonwealth v. Patterson
42(No. 1) Crim. Law Bulletin 21 (2006)
19 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2015
Date Written: Spring, 2006
In Commonwealth v. Patterson, Massachusetts’ highest court sought amicus curiae briefs on this question: has the Commonwealth met its burden under Commonwealth v. Lanigan, 419 Mass. 15 (1994), and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993), to establish the reliability of latent fingerprint individualization applying ACE-V methodology to simultaneous impressions. This marks the first time in the debate over the reliability of latent print evidence, dating from a 1999 hearing in United States v. Mitchell, 365 F.3d 215 (3d Cir. 2004), that a court has issued such a solicitation. Patterson involved an extensive Daubert challenge to both the general reliability of latent fingerprint individualization using the ACE-V (Analysis, Comparison, Evaluation-Verification) "methodology" and its reliability as specifically applied to so-called "simultaneous impressions." When no single latent print contains sufficient information to warrant a conclusion of individualization, latent print examiners sometimes aggregate information across multiple impressions if they think they can determine that the impressions were deposited simultaneously, thus attributing the impressions to a single donor. This amicus curiae brief was filed by the New England Innocence Project on behalf of fifteen scientists and scholars from a variety of disciplines (biology, forensic science, law, linguistics, mathematics, political science, psychology, science and technology studies, and statistics). It represents the clearest expression to date of "the consensus view of the scientific community," namely, that the reliability of latent fingerprint individualization has not been established, that the community of latent fingerprint examiners is neither sufficiently independent nor objective to establish this reliability, and that the reliability of latent print individualization in general should be established before a more controversial technique (simultaneous impressions) is accepted. Counsel of record was David M. Siegel, New England Law | Boston.
Keywords: Evidence, fingerprint identification, ACE-V methodology, latent fingerprint examiners, latent fingerprint individualization, simultaneous fingerprint impressions, expert testimony, crime laboratories
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