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Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Myth of Fingerprints: Maryland Judge Rules That Fingerprint Evidence Fails the Frye Test

Baltimore County Judge Susan Souder has made a landmark ruling in finding the prosecution's fingerprint evidence inadmissible in a capital murder case because it failed to meet the standard for admissibility laid out in Frye v. United States, which looks at whether the test at issue is generally accepted as reliable in the scientific community.  It should be noted that in federal courts and in many state courts, the test laid out in Frye has been replaced by the test laid out in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993).

According to some sources, Souder is the first Maryland judge to find fingerprint evidence inadmissible.  She did so in a 32-page ruling, relying heavily on an Oregon case in which a lawyer was wrongfully linked to the 2004 Madrid train robbings through fingerprint evidence.  Professor David Faigman seems to have the best quote on the decision so far, noting that before DNA evidence, fingerprints were considered the gold standard of forensic science; according to Faigman, Souder is saying that the emperor has no clothes, which is troublesome for other forensic evidence because it is considered "less reliable" evidence than fingerprint evidence.  Thus, not only should this decision lead to fingerprint evidence being challenged; it also means that almost all forensic evidence can be challenged.

I'll have more on this landmark decision after I read the opinion.

-CM

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