The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently identified 149 potential sources of human error in the analysis of crime scene fingerprints.  In an article published by NIST, the results of a study by a working group of 34 scientists, NIST recommends changes to reduce human error and make conclusions more reliable.  You can download the report at this site.

Fingerprint evidence is difficult to deal with in trial because the examiner offers his or her "opinion" as if it were indisputable fact. In truth, the examiner identifies a number of points of comparison and then, if similar to the known sample (for example, from our client), declares that the prints "match."  He or she may use fewer than 7 points of comparison in many jurisdictions and still declare the "match."

How do you handle this type of evidence at trial?  Start with NIST article and think about the issue as if it was any other opinion, subject to attack on that basis. Expert opinions are conclusions based on a review of facts (like points of comparison on fingerprints), and are subject to human error. Opinion testimony is also subject to cross-examination for bias (testimony that favors a position) and prejudice (testimony that opposes a position).  For example, an examiner may be part of the "prosecution team," with an agenda to obtain a conviction.  He or she may acknowledge that there are no real standards with respect to how many points of comparison are required to state the opinion. Perhaps he or she has been retained in a case and has been paid for the opinion.  

My point is simple – treat this witness just like any other "expert" and cut away at credibility, in part by focussing some of your cross-examination on human error.

But recognize that jurors love "scientific" evidence.  Science has certainty, or at least the appearance of certainty, for that moment in time. Turns out the earth is not flat – regardless of the opinions offered to the contrary. And maybe that "matching" fingerprint is a match only because the analysts are subject to human error. Jurors will need a reason (or 149) to not believe the conclusion that the prints match, so go slow and go broad. The more potential doubt the expert can concede, the better you will do. 


Continue Reading 149 Reasons Why That Fingerprint Expert Might Be Mistaken

Have you noticed how many attorney websites are all about the lawyer and pay no attention to the information that people charged with criminal matters are looking for? Most lawyer websites scream: "Hire me! Do it now! You might go to prison if you don’t act within the next hour! Call me now!"

I hate those websites! Instead of providing information, the lawyers using the sites try to scare you into hiring them based on emotion, not information. The truth is you might not even need an attorney to handle your case. So before you sign that retainer agreement, get informed!

This blog is different. There is a ton of free information here for you to review based on your needs. Have a DUI case? Check out the DUI section of the Topics. Have a question about how to value a personal injury or wrongful death case? Look at the Civil Practice section.

The Topics section can lead you to information that you can use to help you become informed on whatever area of law you are interested in. Well, not every area – this blog is really about criminal defense, civil rights and civil trials. With over thirty years of experience in those areas, my goal is to help you become better informed!

And what if the issue you have is not listed in the Topics? Send me a question and I will get back to you. We promise to get you information – then you can make a great decision about whether you need a lawyer and which lawyer you want to hire.


Continue Reading Idaho Criminal Defense Blog Is About Content – Free Information For You On Criminal Defense In Idaho

 I am currently captivated by The Pacific, an HBO mini-series airing on Sunday nights. Even on Easter Sunday I am watching as the men of the 1st Marine Division are moving through the jungle on New Britain. The jungle is everyone’s enemy. I cannot remember enough about the history of America’s time in that part of the world and I

Continue Reading Surviving Tough Times While Your Loved One Faces A Criminal Trial – Pray And Hold On

 The Idaho Supreme Court decided an interesting case in which the Boy Scouts of America sought to dismiss a case brought by sex abuse victims who had not proceeded with their cases until they were adults. Generally, Idaho civil law contains a statute of limitations that ends liability for civil cases after some number of years. For example – if

Continue Reading Idaho’s Civil Action For Victims Of Sexual Abuse Not Applied Retroactively

The problem with over generalizations is – they are in fact over generalizations! Guilty. I may have suggested recently that your likelihood of getting relief on appeal is about the same as coming up with a perpetual motion machine; or a little less than winning that $200 million Power Ball; or swimming from Los Angeles to San Diego – even

Continue Reading Did I say the Idaho Supreme Court never grants relief? Say it ain’t so!

 I had a really nice woman in my office today who wanted to hire me to be her lawyer in a felony case. Her biggest block was, well – money. She said she had been "hoping to avoid all those hearings" and thereby make it possible to hire me. Fewer hearings means less time spent on the case and less

Continue Reading “I Was Hoping To Avoid All Those Hearings….”

Reversing a conviction for rape this week, the Idaho Court of Appeals reminded all of us that the system works when the rules leveling the playing field are enforced. That applies to defense lawyers and prosecutors alike. As Judge Gutierrez noted: "While our system of criminal justice is adversarial in nature, and the prosecutor is expected to be diligent and leave

Continue Reading Three Truths About Criminal Trials – And Maurice Troutman Gets Another Chance

 I sometimes laugh at the notion of lawyers as counselors. We are not trained to be counselors.  We are trained in the law and by experience we learn to be fighters. Advocates. I have always liked the French term "avocat" as it better describes our role in the disputes that dominate our professional lives.  But what do our clients really

Continue Reading Three Things Clients Need From Their Lawyers

 If you live in the Boise – Nampa – Caldwell, Idaho area you cannot have escaped the most recent news story on another apparent homicide by a fourteen year old Caldwell Middle School student. That’s right friends – 14. As in "how many kids can you stuff in a VW Bug?"  Fourteen – if they are little Middle School kids.

Continue Reading Community Support Grows For 14 Year-Old Kid Charged With Murder – Now He Needs A Good Experienced Lawyer

On the way to a little county jail near the Oregon and Idaho state line one morning last fall I was listening to Collin Cowherd on ESPN radio. He made the point that he loves teams that "know who they are."  Example – Boise State Broncos – he says that Chris Peterson and the boys know they are a team

Continue Reading Outside the Law – Do YOU Know Who You Are and Where You Are Going?