Scandal, Fraud, and the Reform of Forensic Science:
The Case of Fingerprint Analysis
26 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2017
Date Written: March 21, 2016
The purpose of this Article is to explore the role of scandal in bringing about the reform of forensic science. It uses the forensic discipline of latent print (fingerprint) analysis as a case study. It further confines itself to two countries: the United States and the United Kingdom. Each country hosted a major scandal with regard to fingerprint analysis within the past two decades. These scandals, commonly known by the names of the victims of misidentification are the “Mayfield case” in the U.S. and the “McKie case” in the United Kingdom. This Article seeks to assess the impact of these two scandals on the reforms to fingerprint analysis that have occurred since the McKie case in 1997. It does so using the historian’s technique of posing a counterfactual: what would fingerprint analysis look like today had these two scandals not occurred, or, more realistically, had they occurred, but not been exposed? This Article finds that these two scandals played important roles in bringing about the reforms in fingerprint analysis that have occurred in the past two decades. This Article concludes with some reflections on the implications of this finding: that the discipline of forensic science and the institutions that are its clients (courts, police, attorneys, government, the public, etc.) are so heavily dependent on scandal as an engine for bringing about what few dispute were necessary and positive reforms. It suggests that we need to seek more stable and less volatile means of bringing about necessary and positive reforms.
Keywords: forensic, scandal, fraud, fingerprint, McKie, Mayfield
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