Saturday, December 23, 2006

1st Circuit Publishes Opinion Upholding Fingerprint Testimony

On Friday, the First Circuit issued a published opinion upholding the admission of the prosecution's fingerprint identification testimony in a case involving a fraudulent passport application. The district court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting the defendant's challenge to the expert's qualifications, because the expert's substantial experience was enough to satisfy Rule 702; he was not required, in addition, to be conversant with the underlying statistical studies purporting to validate fingerprint identification techniques.

On appeal, the defendant also objected to the expert's allegedly unreliable application of standard fingerprint identification methodology. Not having been raised at trial, the defendant's reliability objections were reviewed under a plain error standard, and were likewise rejected. The expert testified that the faxed copy of the defendant's prints was clear enough to permit a comparison. Although he pointed to only five matching characteristics on direct (rather than the minimum of eight he said were required to support an identification), those five were offered for illustrative purposes only and did not represent an exhaustive list. See United States v. Vargas, No. 05-2826 (1st Cir. Dec. 22, 2006) (Torruella, Lynch, & Lipez, JJ.).


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Fed. R. Evid. 702: If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.