Re: IAI Certification Issues - International Association for
Regarding the " Letter to the IAI RE: Certification Issues"
From Criminalist / LPE / Deputy Sheriff / IAI member
Forensic Science Department
County Sheriff's Office
For God sakes man, stop whining! The United States Constitution guarantees
the right of the defense / the accused, to not only put on a vigorous defense,
but the right to confront witnesses. You are a witness. An expert witness.
[Editor comment: in a separate quote, the author states "If you knew me,
you would find that I do have a weird sense of humour, and even though this
may come across somewhat like a cold slap in the face to some, I did not mean
it in a mean-spirited way.]
You wrote in the Weekly Detail, "I have recently been in the position of
having to defend my Certification in the courtroom..." So what. That's life.
Every time you take the stand the defense has the right to question the evidence,
every word written in your report, and every word that you utter while testifying.
Did you expect anything less? Did you not anticipate this? Did you expect
that you could hold up your Certification and not be questioned about your
knowledge, training and abilities?
( " Having worked hard to attain CLPE status, I am extremely upset by having
to defend it!" ) The test you took for your Certification is merely a snapshot
in time. Every time you testify you have to be qualified on the stand as an
expert witness. Bruce Lee once had a student who held the rank of black belt
come whining to him after a bout, in which the student was defeated. "But
you don't understand...I have a black belt, and I lost." Bruce asked him
if he thought the mere act of having the belt would have made him prevail.
Would it have somehow miraculously undid itself from his waist, and attack
and defeat his opponent.
Don't whine to the IAI. You got beat on the stand. ( By beat, I mean you
did not get your point across to the jury, and make them understand, in order
to win the argument.) The reason; knowledge is fixed in time, whereas knowing
is a movement. Think...react...anticipate. Before you testify you should think
about the different ways the defense could attack your Certification, and
how you would handle those questions. You put yourself in the position of
being the quintessential "Deer in the headlights." The defense, how dare they,
questioned your IAI Certification? That is their job. I guarantee that they
would have questioned you if you were not certified; if you took the Certification
test and did not pass it; what your score was, and/or why you did not get
You wrote,"Simon Cole was retained by the defense and was allowed, by a
visiting judge, to testify." Okay...that's their right. Not being familiar
with Simon Cole, I assume he is a latent print expert, and a latent print
examiner. Which would lead me to the following questions. Did Simon Cole
compare the latent palm print impression on the cashbox, with the defendants
rolled inked impressions, and if so, did he agree or disagree with your positive
identification? If he agreed with your positive identification, did he author
a report of his conclusions, present that to your ADA, and testify as a prosecution
witness? If he did not compare the latent impression to the inked, but was
afforded the opportunity to do so, did your ADA cross examine him about that
fact. Brandon Mayfield is an all too convenient smoke-screen.
The defenses options are to attack the source of the latent, the age of
the latent, the science, or the examiner. It is clear which way they went.
The Brandon Mayfield case. My thought is, "Get over it!" Did you do the
comparison work in that case? No. Do you always use the original evidence
when you make comparisons? Yes..or you should...or your lab should have a
policy in place that you do. Not having first-hand knowledge of the case,
from reading the accounts of the Mayfield case, have you formed any sort
of opinion? The FBI apparently used copies of original evidence to make their
comparisons and identification, something that I would not be permitted to
do, and they realized their mistake only after viewing the original latent
impression. I believe it was in an IAI publication that I read, "If a pilot
error causes an airplane to crash, that does not mean the scientific principals
that explain flight are flawed." This might have been a fitting anology for
you to have used on the stand.
In your letter you stated that,"defense refused to stipulate to expertise
and immediately initiated a line of questioning regarding the Mayfield case."
Did I mention that Brandon Mayfield lives in our county? Local reaction...if
synchronized panic were an organized sport, several of our Deputy District
Attorneys would be in the Olympics. I guess I'll just have to deal with it.
You wrote,"The assistant DA, who is very capable, addressed all the usual
areas in the qualifications phase, including IAI Certification, and went into
some detail about the difficulties in attaining CLPE and the relative few
there are." And the defense did not stipulate to your expertise ? Shocking!
Your DA opened a door the size of a Mack truck, and invited the defense right
in. This is not a knock on the IAI, ( I am a member ) but as I understand
it, any latent examiner who has X # of years on and/or college education can
take the Certification test. How many thousands of examiners who are not
certified, are, as of this moment, eligible to take the test? The finest latent
print examiner I have ever known, retired a few years ago. He had 32 years
on as an LPE. I asked him why he never took the Certification test. He told
me it was for several reasons. He was nearing retirement. The county did
not pay him anything extra to obtain his certification. The county would not
pay for the test. The test put a limit on the amount of time each applicant
could spend making the comparisons, and in actual case work, he was not under
such a time restraint. The IAI used copies of latent prints in their testing,
and he was not allowed to use copies in his casework. And finally, he said
that the Certification would only hold so much weight on the stand, and not
be the end-all of his lifelong work in the science of fingerprints.
Look above at my somewhat lengthy official title. Notice it reads LPE and
not CLEP. I am not certified. I am currently eligible to take the IAI Certification
examine. I think if I chose to do so, I could pass the test and obtain my
certification. I have many years on, made hundreds of thousands of comparisons,
testifed as an expert in Circuit Court and U.S. District Court, and have attended
several latent print schools, including the old FBI advanced three week latent
print examiners school at Quantico, Virginia. I can be questioned about not
being certified, just as you can be questioned about being so. I think I
am prepared to anticipate and answer most questions put to me on the stand.
I have only addressed the subjects in your letter that really torqued me
off, although your idea that the IAI or JFI publish "any change in an examiner's
Certification status," ( Gee, I wonder what that change would be, or what
caused that to occur?) I find ridiculous and irresponsible. ( Also see lawsuit,
if/when the publishing results in the examiner not being hired or retained
by an agency in the future.) The reasons for erroneous identifications, though
rare, do occur, and for different reasons, including " bookkeeping errors."
An erroneous latent print identification can be a career buster. But on the
other hand, some agencies discipline, re-train, or keep their examiners on,
following the mistake, with certain limitations such as requiring the examiner
to have multiple verifiers of their work, or not being allowed to testify
to their conclusions in court.
In conclusion...the IAI is not going to take the stand with you. Don't wrap
yourself in your Certification when you testify, and don't blame the IAI.
Your certification is only one piece of your background, and as you know by
now, everything you testify to can and will be challenged. Afterall, that
is our criminal justice system, and the American way.
I also believe that you should be proud of your Certification, because you
did put in your dues to attain it, and the IAI is a fine and respected body.
My purpose of writing this letter was not to discourage anyone from taking
the Certification test, or obtaining their Certification. I know I have exceeded
the analogy limit, but I will leave you with a final one. " The mighty dragon,
stranded in shallow waters, amuses the frogs."
After a brief lecture from my supervisor about my supposed "anger control
problem" ( My misjudgement in having him proof read this e-mail. ) I finally
end with this caveat. The opinions and views of this Criminalist are not necessarily
those of the Washington County Sheriff's Office, their subsidiaries, or their
I have read, and re-read, your lengthy reaction to my letter and I have
to admit that your penchant for missing the point is manifest.
Naturally, every time one of us testifies (certified or not) we expect,
increasingly it seems, rigorous cross-examination and refusals to stipulate.
That is as it should be, because if you are going to testify you should be
prepared for any line of questioning. I happen to enjoy the challenge and
am all for the maintenance of high standards, awareness of continuing challenges,
and ongoing training. I am not in the habit of waving certification around
in the expectation that it will make my life easier. Rather the contrary.
My experience, certification, knowledge, background, training and track record
are all fair game in the courtroom. Do you think I am unaware of this? Your
condescending redundancies, and peculiar analogies, would suggest that you
are preaching to a novice rather than an experienced examiner, and I don't
appreciate it. The strident tone and finger-wagging sermonising of your correspondence
would have me believe that you are more an apologist than a realist, though
I expect that your writing style masks otherwise good intentions...
Your blithe interpretation of my complaint as "whining" was both insulting
Regarding the Brandon Mayfield case, your suggestion that we just "get over
it" showcases your apparent lack of understanding of what is going on in courtrooms
accross the country, and indeed worldwide.
Your ignorance of Simon Cole's role in contemporary argument in your chosen
field is testimony to your cobwebbed professional standing.
Your self-congratulatory belief that you are "prepared to anticipate and
answer most questions" put to you on the stand is curious. If you were asked
about your professional affiliations, you would no doubt proudly proclaim
your IAI membership. If you were asked about your general knowledge of the
Mayfield incident, I assume you would be able to respond. I can guarantee
you that if you were then asked about the reaction within the IAI, following
review of all the particulars in the case, and the subsequent action taken
and papers published etc..., you would not have had an answer. Nobody did.
I would agree with you on two issues only. One is the fact that the vast
majority of latent examiners are not certified by the IAI. I would further
agree that this in no way diminishes their ability, professionalism, or dedication.
The pursuit of certification tends to be a personal choice, unless it is mandated
by your Department. I understand that most Departments, including my own,
do not compensate for certification, or for the study material or test fee,
so many examiners do not undergo the process, and that is fine. Those of
us who have taken the time to challenge ourselves, and have succeeded, deserve,
at the very least, the courtesy of response from the IAI when inquiring as
to their position on the Mayfield case more than ONE YEAR after the fact.
(yeah, I know....'get over it'). In fact, ANY member of this organization
has the right to request this information.
The second issue that provoked a nod of agreement was the wisdom of your
If you ever "choose to" pass the certification test, you might discover
that it is something worth defending, and that the IAI should feel likewise.
I wish you well, and would invite you to re-review my original letter for
content and substance.
The following is a motion to exclude fingerprint comparison testimony in
a case that is unrelated to the above
IN THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR PINELLAS COUNTY, FLORIDA
STATE OF FLORIDA
MOTION TO EXCLUDE FINGERPRINT COMPARISON TESTIMONY
The Defendant, by and through undersigned counsel, respectfully requests
this Honorable Court to enter an Order excluding testimony on the subject
of fingerprint comparison identification in general and a fingerprint comparison
made of the Defendant, and as grounds therefor would show:
1. The State has listed a James A. Cot as a witness in this cause.
James A. Cot is a fingerprint examiner. He is anticipated to testify
that a comparison of latent prints lifted from the crime scene matched known
prints of the Defendant. Currently, the International Association for
Identifications (IAI) sets no minimum number of points of comparison before
an examiner can testify to a “match.”
2. According to Brim and Murray, testimony of a match between a suspect’s
characteristics and characteristics from a sample taken from a crime scene,
without introduction of a statistic to educate the jury on the uniqueness
(or lack thereof) of the characteristic, militates against the introduction
of such testimony. Brim v. State, 695 So.2d 268 (Fla.1997)(underlying
principles as well as methodology of each step of scientific evidence must
independently satisfy Frye test); State v. Murray, 692 So.2d 157 (Fla.1997)(excluding
3. As the supreme court stated in Murray, “in overly simplified terms,
the results obtained through the first step . . . simply indicate that two
. . . samples look the same. A second statistical step is needed to
give significance to a match.” Murray, 692 So.2d at 162. In the
present case, the State intends to offer evidence that two samples of fingerprints
look the same, without offering a second statistical step required for admissibility.
“Certainly, a judge’s or juror’s untutored impression of how unusual a [person’s
characteristic] is could be very wrong. This possibility militates
in favor of going beyond a simple statement of a match, to give the trier
of fact some expert guidance about its probative value.” Murray, 692 So.2d
at 162 (citation omitted).
3. “The burden is on the proponent of the evidence to prove the general
acceptance of both the underlying scientific principle and the testing procedures
used to apply that principle to the facts of the case at hand.” Murray,
692 So.2d at 161 (citing Ramirez v. State, 651 So.2d 1164, 1168 (Fla.1995)).
In Murray, the court reiterated that DNA results are reliable, “provided
the laboratory has followed accepted testing procedures that meet the Frye
standard to protect against false readings and contaminations.” Unlike
DNA evidence, there are no national standards that apply to fingerprint comparison
4. Recently, the National Institute of Justice, the research and development
branch of the United States Department of Justice, published a solicitation
for “Forensic Friction Ridge (Fingerprint) Examination Studies,” with an
application deadline of July 28, 2000. The National Institute of Justice
“identified the need for validation of the basis for friction ridge individualization
and standardization of comparison criteria.” The purpose of the solicitation
was, in part, to ensure that expert testimony regarding fingerprint (or friction
ridge) comparison could meet the standard for admissibility under Daubert
v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals, 113 S. Ct. 2786 (1993). Florida has
declined to adopt the more lenient federal standard and continues to apply
the stricter Frye standard for admissibility. Brim v. State, 695 So.2d
268, 271-272 (Fla.1997).
5. Further, the background section of the National Institute of Justice
solicitation reveals that concern over the lack of standardized procedures
for friction ridge examination began being addressed by the Federal Bureau
of Investigation in 1995, culminating in the creation of a Fingerprint Research
Advisory Panel (FRAP) in May, 1999. The FRAP reached a consensus that
the field needed both “basic research to determine the scientific validity
of individuality in friction ridge examination based on measurement of features,
quantification, and statistical analysis” and “procedures for comparing friction
ridge impressions that are standardized and validated.” The study could
continue for two years.
6. Based on the lack of standardized procedures related to friction
ridge examination, the lack of a statistic regarding the frequency of friction
ridge characteristics in the population, and the federal government’s recognition
of the need for validation studies, the testimony of James A. Cot, or any
other fingerprint comparison witness, should be excluded from introduction
NOTICE OF HEARING
YOU ARE NOTIFIED that the above will be heard before the Honorable Nancy
Moate Ley, Criminal Justice Center, 14250 49th Street North, Clearwater,
Florida 33762, on
_______________ at ________.
I CERTIFY that a copy of the foregoing has been furnished to the State Attorney,
Criminal Justice Center, Clearwater, Florida, on _____.
Attorney at Law
PUBLIC DEFENDER, SIXTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
Criminal Justice Center
14250 49th Street North
Clearwater, FL 33762
IN THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR PINELLAS COUNTY, FLORIDA
STATE OF FLORIDA
The foregoing cause coming on this day to be heard upon Defendant's MOTION
TO EXCLUDE FINGERPRINT COMPARISON TESTIMONY, and the same having been argued
by counsel for the respective parties and duly considered by the Court, it
is ordered that said Motion is hereby ____________________.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that _________________________________________________
DONE AND ORDERED at Clearwater, Pinellas County, Florida this _________ day