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The myth of fingerprints
By Edward J. Imwinkelried; Michael Cherry
There was a time — not very long ago — when we considered fingerprints
to be the gold standard of scientific evidence. We assumed that
fingerprint analysts were virtually infallible. Defense counsel not only
rarely challenged the admissibility of fingerprint testimony; but on
many occasions they also stipulated to the admission of the findings of
However, in the past few years we have become more skeptical about the
opinions of fingerprint examiners. The initial shock came when
proficiency tests revealed a substantial margin of error, including
false positives, in examiners’ findings.1 Finally, in 2002, the forensic science community was stunned when Judge Pollak excluded fingerprint testimony in United States v. Llera Plaza,2 before changing his mind.3
To date, most of the attention has focused on the question of the
reliability of the process by which the fingerprint expert “matches” the
inked impression with the latent found at the c
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