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Court Preparation and Presentation


Every fingerprint examiner may be called on to testify about the identification or nonidentification of a fingerprint. This process, while sometimes daunting, may be undertaken as a professional through practice and persistence. Like anything else in life, the inexperienced examiner may be intimated initially by the setting of the courtroom and all of the court attache. As one becomes more experienced and comfortable, the process of presenting a case in court becomes more manageable. As a witness, the fingerprint examiner will be called on to testify as an expert. The judge will grant expert status based on the knowledge, training, and experience of the fingerprint examiner. The following are guidelines that the examiner may practice and use to present a case.

During an investigation/comparison, the fingerprint examiner should always bear in mind that a case may end up in court. Having that in mind, examiners should constantly attend trainings, conferences, and conduct research to prepare themselves for that eventuality. There are three distinct phases of the court process one should consider: preparation, presentation, and review.

Preparation of the Exhibit

In preparing for court, an examiner will need to gather all evidence in the case to present to the prosecutor, the jury (if needed), and to the court in a professional and nonbiased manner. However, the preparation begins through the education and training phase prior to comparing fingerprints for testimony.

As a fingerprint examiner, one must receive basic, modern, and advanced fingerprint training to become a credible witness. For example,

Identifying the characteristics within the fingerprint

Figure 6.1 Identifying the characteristics within the fingerprint.

having a basic knowledge of fingerprint patterns, knowing the unique characteristics that may be found within a fingerprint, and the ACE-V methodology will be of great advantage during testimony (Figure 6.1). In the long run, having such credentials will also assist the examiner in qualifying as an expert witness.

Another aspect of the preparation phase includes preparing the evidence for the court. A fingerprint examiner should bring the physical evidence, or comparison cards, and results to the court. In cases where an examiner needs to explain the process of comparison to the jury, visual aids may be useful in explaining to the lay witnesses.

Keep in mind that the chain of custody and integrity of the evidence must be maintained. Visual aids may include fingerprint lift cards, comparison enlargements, tenprint cards, and photographs. Be sure that the enlargements and photographs are clear and free from distortion in the ridge details of the fingerprints. Additionally, one may need to generate a brief report that includes the procedures taken to process, analyze, and compare fingerprint evidence. If a report is generated, it must entail important dates, times, and case numbers. Check the report, proofread, and ensure that it is free from any errors prior to presenting in court.

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