The Nonscience of Fingerprinting: United States v. Llera-Plaza

16 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2015

See all articles by David H. Kaye

David H. Kaye

PSU - Penn State Law (University Park); ASU - College of Law & School of Life Sciences

Date Written: 2003


This article discusses the district court’s change of heart in United States v. Llera-Plaza. In this case, U.S. District Judge Louis Pollak initially excluded testimony of a “match” or “identification” by a latent fingerprint examiner, finding it wanting under the principles of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Then, the court reconsidered and rescinded its order. To expose the difficulties in applying the evidentiary doctrine fashioned by the Supreme Court in Daubert and Kumho Tire to a form of expertise that is firmly established in practice yet under-researched, this article contrasts the two opinions, describes their strengths and weaknesses, and argues that the second opinion does little to undermine the result reached in the first instance. It also describes distortions of science that occur as advocates invoke the terminology of Daubert with little understanding of its meaning.

Keywords: scientific evidence, forensic science, latent fingerprints, Daubert, Kumho Tire, individualization, error rates, judicial notice

Suggested Citation

Kaye, David H., The Nonscience of Fingerprinting: United States v. Llera-Plaza (2003). Quinnipiac Law Review, Vol. 21, pp. 1073-88, 2003, Available at SSRN:

David H. Kaye (Contact Author)

PSU - Penn State Law (University Park)

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University Park, PA 16802
United States


ASU - College of Law & School of Life Sciences ( email )

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