With Fingerprint Experts continuing to report their opinions as a matter of fact, it is perhaps unsurprising that many of their reports and statements go unchallenged. Stock phrases such as being in ‘no doubt’ about an identification and finding ‘X number of ridge characteristics in agreement’ can often be perceived as strong or even irrefutable evidence.
The reality, however, can be markedly different. Our Forensic Scientists are increasingly finding that, when police Fingerprint Expert evidence is put to the test, even a partial print with very few clear points of correspondence may have been reported as a conclusive ‘identification’ with a large number of matching characteristics! Such seemingly strong opinions may not be supported by examination records or reality and can fall short of the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ hurdle.
Recently, one of our Fingerprint Specialists, Simon Bunter, attended Crown Court for a case where the prosecution had adduced ‘conclusive’ fingerprint identification evidence. In her statement, the Crown’s expert stated that she found “14 ridge characteristics in agreement” and was in “no doubt” that the crime scene mark had been made by the defendant. Mr Bunter also examined the mark and compared it against the defendant’s fingerprints. He found a maximum of 7 similar characteristics, some of which were barely visible as they lay in distorted and smudged areas of the questioned mark. Mr Bunter also found differences between the questioned mark and the defendant’s print that were not mentioned in the Crown expert’s statement and consequently he reported the outcome of the comparison as inconclusive.
At court the police expert was asked to demonstrate where she found the extra 7 characteristics but instead stated it was not Fingerprint Bureau policy to do that. She explained that several months ago she made notes to indicate the 14 characteristics but had deleted them once she reached her decision.
In the witness box, Mr Bunter explained his view of the serious shortcomings of the Fingerprint Expert’s report, the fact that the 14 characteristics could not be demonstrated and the presence of differences. The jury found the defendant not guilty.
Our experts are frequently finding that unsupportable reports are being relied on by the prosecution as conclusive evidence. The only way to check whether the evidential value of the prosecution statement is as strong as it sounds is to independently examine the fingerprints. We have also seen an example of negative fingerprint findings that, following independent examination, resulted in a different case outcome. At Keith Borer Consultants we adopt a rigorous scientific approach to fingerprint examinations backed-up by academic research within a structured and up-to-date procedural framework.
If you wish to discuss the fingerprint evidence in your case, call Simon Bunter or Catherine Tweedy on 0191 332 4999.