The first part of the story focuses on the surprising subjectivity of fingerprint examination, honing in on false accusations of terrorism against Oregon attorney Brandon Mayfield. Then they move on to the high rate of false positive errors in bite mark evidence, address the relative lack of meaningful credentialing in many forensic disciplines, and the inability of courts to weed out poorly functioning experts. It was fascinating to hear a latent fingerprint examiner with 40 years experience saying that moment one decides that two prints match amounts to a "leap of faith."
One interesting segment of the show discussed the infamous Casey Anthony prosecution out of Florida to show how high-profile cases can pressure prosecutors to employ questionable forensic evidence - in particular the so-called "smell of death" testimony. The jury in that case heard 37 experts from a dozen different forensic disciplines. The case was unusual in that respect, said her attorney, because the defendant was able to pay for a robust defense thanks to money paid her by ABC News for access to family photos. For those whose cases haven't become national entertainment fodder and can't get a news network to pay for defense experts, I suppose they're out of luck.
RELATED (4/20): Check out this story out of the UK about a police officer falsely accused of perjury based on a fingerprint mismatch.
See related Grits posts:
- Fallible fingerprints: The dustup over cognitive bias.
- Houston fingerprint lab plagued with errors, two-year backlog
- How state agencies outside law enforcement use and store fingerprint data
- Brady violations by DPS fingerprint examiners? Is fingerprint examination even science?
- Fingerprint mismatch led to false homicide accusation
- Fingerprint examiner: 'They put pressure on you shamelessly'