The Resilience of Fingerprint Evidence

This evening, my Law and Science students and I will be discussing scientific evidence–DNA evidence, fingerprint evidence, arson evidence, and the like. Every year when we have these discussions, I am always struck by how fingerprint evidence is still so heavily relied upon by the actors within the criminal justice system. Not a whole lot has changed since the National Research Council emphasized in 2009 that neither fingerprint, nor other forensic non-DNA, evidence “has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source.” Still, courts place significant value on this evidence, primarily because it has been so heavily relied on for so long and appears to have reached the right results in most cases. After all, it’s troubling to think that we may have convicted innocent individuals based on this type of evidence.

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2 thoughts on “The Resilience of Fingerprint Evidence

  1. During the presentation given by the scientist, he stated that when called as a witness, he often answers the questions that should be asked because the attorney doesn’t know how to ask the question or doesn’t know what question to ask to get the proper answer. Is it proper for a witness to do this and should he answer the question asked? It seems he may be taking on the role of opposing counsel in his effort to “protect the credibility of the science” (I believe he stated as his reason).

  2. I’m honestly shocked that the courts are so reliant on this; however, in the popular mind many such pseudoscientific devices serve in place of real evidence. A lie detector is basically about 51% accurate on average in laboratory tests, which is almost exactly the same as flipping a coin. Yet, it is widely used in many fields, including for testing government employees. So I guess the persistance of fingerprint evidence as definitive proof in criminal trials probably shouldn’t surprise me.

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