CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Saturday, October 18, 2008

LAPD blames faulty fingerprint analysis for erroneous accusations

Fingerprint The Los Angeles Police Department has acknowledged in a confidential report that people have been falsely implicated in crimes because the department's fingerprint experts wrongly identified them as suspects.

The 10-page internal report, obtained by The Times, highlighted two cases in which criminal defendants had charges against them dropped after problems with the fingerprint analysis were exposed. LAPD officials do not know how many other people might have been wrongly accused over the years as a result of poor fingerprint analysis and do not have the funds to pay for a comprehensive audit to find out, according to police records and interviews.

This is something of extraordinary concern," said Michael Judge, public defender for Los Angeles County. "Juries tend to accord the highest level of confidence to fingerprint evidence. This is the type of thing that easily could lead to innocent people being convicted."

The two cases were used by investigators to illustrate broader problems with shoddy work and poor oversight that have plagued the department's Latent Print Unit. Rhonda Sims-Lewis, chief of the LAPD's administrative and technical bureau, acknowledged the findings, but said changes to the unit's leadership and protocols were made last year after senior officials became aware of problems.

Internal discipline investigations led to the firing of one fingerprint analyst, who had been involved in both of the mishandled cases. Three other analysts received suspensions, Sims-Lewis said. In addition, two supervisors responsible for overseeing the unit were replaced, staff was bolstered and oversight tightened, she said.

"This is very, very serious," Sims-Lewis said. "We feel very compelled to take quick action when something like this arises. Guilty people can be set free and innocent people can be jailed." [Mark Godsey]
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