Forensic Expert Witness Presents Fingerprint Testimony in Criminal Case

Michael Talve, CEO

Written by
— Updated on October 12, 2017

fingerprint testimonyThis case involves several defendants who were charged with drug conspiracy offenses and murders. The Government in the case sought to introduce a forensic expert witness to testify about latent fingerprint evidence, more specifically the ACE-V fingerprint identification system, linking the defendants to the alleged crimes. The judge in the case held that the FBI could not use the expert witness in forensic science to give his opinion about whether the fingerprint evidence established that one of the defendants had committed a crime because the evidence was not sufficiently reliable to be presented in a criminal trial and did not meet the admissibility requirements of Federal Rule of Evidence 702.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Can a forensic expert witness use fingerprint identification evidence in a criminal trial and is this type of evidence sufficiently reliable to meet the standards of admissibility of Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence?

Expert Witness Response

In order for a forensic expert witness to testify in a criminal trial, they must establish under Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence that the evidence they seek to present: (1) can and has been tested; (2) has been subjected to peer review and publication; (3) has a known or potential rate of error and has standards for controlling the technique’s operation; and (4) has general acceptance. The ACE-V fingerprint identification system is based on an acronym that stands for four fingerprint examination procedures—analysis, comparison, evaluation, and verification. The ACE-V system is based on the theory that the fingerprints of each person are unique to that person and are (barring some serious and deeply penetrating wound to the hand that substantially alters or defaces the surface of one or more fingers or of the palm) permanent from birth to death. The ACE-V fingerprint identification system has been used for over 100 years and has been accepted widely in the American fingerprint examiner community. It had been generally held that even though the ACE-V system is not a “scientific technique” for purposes of admitting evidence of similarities between latent fingerprints, it is still a “technical discipline” that has been in widespread use for many years. Because of these factors, the forensic expert witness’s use of the ACE-V fingerprint identification system,in this case, is probably admissible evidence under Rule 702. Since a forensic expert witness is usually able to conclusively point out the similarities between prints from a crime scene and those of a defendant in a criminal case, this type of evidence is probably admissible in a criminal case.

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