Maryland Judge Bars Fingerprint Evidence; “Absurd” Ruling?


Prosecutors have convicted suspects with fingerprints for more than a century – but the once unshakable certainty of fingerprint experts might be crumbling, the Baltimore Sun reports. When a Baltimore County judge barred fingerprint evidence in a murder case this week, her concerns echoed those of critics who say fingerprint identification remains as much art as science. “Basically, it’s ‘trust me’ forensic science, and that’s scary,” said Sandy Zabell, a Northwestern University mathematician who studies how statistics are used in court cases.

Judge Susan Souder ruled this week that fingerprint evidence, a mainstay of police forensics for more than a century, is not reliable enough to be used as evidence in the murder trial of Bryan Rose, who could be sentenced to death if convicted. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, legal experts, and law enforcement officials are assessing the implications of the ruling on a method that fingerprint examiners say is 100 percent reliable. Criminologist Thomas Mauriello of the University of Maryland called challenges to the reliability of fingerprints “absurd.” He said, “You can question the way a print was taken or question the chain of custody. But questioning the science is hard to do, because we have never, ever found two people with the same fingerprint.”


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