Problem  Idents

Errors vs. Idents...  Posted Here for Your Review

First Case - US
Second Case - EU
Third Case - EU
Fourth Case - US
Lana Canen Case - US
Updated 13 January 2021
by Ed German, CLPE, FFS

The Japanese have a proverb that applies to experts who think they are above making mistakes:

Saru mo ki kara ochiru gif

 "saru mo ki kara ochiru"

The phrase literally translates as "even monkeys fall from trees."  In English, the closest adage may be "pride comes before a fall." 

In every field of human endeavor there will be errors. For that reason, quality control and quality assurance are important to help ensure reliable results.  It is also important that persons incriminated through latent print identifications should have ready access to competent experts to reexamine alleged identifications.

On rare occasions, a fingerprint or palmprint identification* error occurs, even among experts trained to competency.  In fingerprint identification, DNA identification and other relatively mature forensic sciences, erroneous "individualizations" are so rare they cause international news headlines.  That extreme rarity benefits society and justice. 

These are real cases.  This page exists to demonstrate errors so that more than just the experts involved in the cases might learn from mistakes.

In the words of a famous Scotsman, 

"There's nane ever fear'd that the truth should be heard but they whom the truth would indite."

If you possess clearer images demonstrating better ridge detail for these cases, please submit them.   I will gladly post such images, pointing out correlations they demonstrate which are missing from images on these pages. 
There is zero tolerance for friction ridge identification error in forensic science. 

Ignoring  standards causes errors.  A minimum number of Galton detail "points" does NOT equal an identification standard.  The standard for identification is not a number. 

As demonstrated below, relying on a specific number of allegedly matching "points" can be a formula for disaster.  The misleading comfort of a "number" can lead Examiners (and Police administrators) to ignore more important factors which insure reliability.

American national standards are certainly not the only watermark by which to measure reliability.  References herein are not meant to cast doubt on the value of expert standards established outside America for insuring the reliability of the friction ridge identification process.  I write here about what I know best... the identification process in the United States.  This page does not purport to represent the opinion of any professional organization or government entity.  All the good parts I borrowed from other forensic scientists, any faults in logic or explanation are mine.  At the bottom of this page I have posted my personal reasons for building it. --Ed German


Chart Used at Two Separate Court Hearings

This "identification" was effected by an IAI Certified Latent Print Examiner employed by a small American police department in the Midwest.  The examiner had a four year college degree and passed the IAI CLPE certification exam.  The Examiner's certification was revoked by the IAI Latent Print Certification Board because of this erroneous identification. 

The Examiner never apprenticed under a competent examiner, but had a self-trained Latent Print Examiner "mentor" 90 miles away who occasionally reviewed some identifications.  The "mentor" (employed by the State Police laboratory system) was "charged" with making a separate  erroneous identification three months after the error displayed here was discovered.  The "mentor" had never been proficiency tested, had previously retired from a law enforcement agency in another state as a crime scene technician and was basically self-trained... having never apprenticed under a Latent Print Examiner.  The chart scanned here was used during testimony at both a preliminary hearing and a parole revocation hearing.  Legal prosecution ceased when the error was revealed.  At the time the error occurred, the Examiner's agency did not require identification verifications... and also did not participate in annual proficiency testing. 

Click this Picture for an Enlarged Image
Click here to see an enlargement of the Latent Print
Click this Picture for an Enlarged Image
Click here to see an enlargement of the Record Print


Chart Used in European Court

Click the Images to see enlargements of the Charts

Subsequent to a 1997 murder investigation, this erroneous "identification" was effected and verified by four Latent Print Examiners working in an EU government laboratory, then presented as evidence in the trial of a policewoman.  Click here for online details about the case, the resulting inquiry into the error and the resulting improvement in the government laboratory's operations.

The images of these small charts is of limited quality.  Click on the pictures to see enlargements which show each pixel of the digital image court chart hard copies. 

Scan of police crime scene photo of the latent print. 

Scan of photo made by American Latent Print Examiner Pat Wertheim in March 1999.  The light colored scratch through the ridge detail was apparently due to inadvertent contact after the police photos were made. 

Scan of an original inked print. 

If you are a fingerprint expert looking at these images, you should already be able to see that the latent print depicted in the court chart, the scan of the police crime scene photo and the March 1999 scan all depict the same mark from the crime scene. 

If you are not a fingerprint expert and this all sounds like Greek to you, click here to see the three latent print images in the same relative size and same orientation.  The blue outline on the two larger images corresponds with the latent print area in the court chart. 

The court chart has image sampling pixel interference (mottled square or step-like artifacts) and very high contrast. 

The police crime scene photo is slightly blurred, but includes all the ridge detail. 

The March 1999 crime scene photo has the best clarity or sharpness of the three images, but includes only ridge detail that is also present in the slightly blurred police-produced crime scene photo. 

Click this picture to see a larger image
Click on the picture above to see an enlargement.
The green dot at left was identified by the Latent Print Examiners (who effected the "ident") as point number 14 in the above record and latent print charts. 

The red dots below the green dot are points 4 and 5 in the above record and latent print charts. 

The red dots with yellow arrows were NOT charted by the original police experts making the identification, but are two of the most obvious discrepancies (neither is present in the other print). 

Click here to download a 600 Kb (big file - 15 minutes via some slow Internet connections) uncompressed TIF file scanned directly from the negative exposed at the crime scene.  This TIF file has greater detail than the compressed JPG images on this page, but will not open in many web browsers and must instead be viewed with imaging software (or viewed by inserting into a Microsoft Word or other word processing document). Click here to download a 2.5 Mb (really big file - 60 minutes via some Internet slow connections) uncompressed TIF file scanned directly from the negative exposed at the crime scene.  This TIF file has greater detail than the compressed JPG images on this page, but will not open in many web browsers and must instead be viewed with imaging software (or viewed by inserting into a Microsoft Word or other word processing document).
Click these images to see additional enlarged inked prints from the police woman (the smaller image is a 292 Kb file and the larger is 493 Kb).  These eight inked prints were scanned from one piece of paper. 

Friction ridge identification is a reliable science. 

Since the mid-1970's the International Association for Identification (IAI) and its Latent Print Certification Board have worked with state and regional chartered IAI Divisions throughout the U.S. toward the goal of improving professional abilities.  Since 1995 the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sponsored the Scientific Working Group on Friction Ridge Analysis, Study and Technology (SWGFAST) for developing consensus standards which preserve and improve the quality of service provided by the latent print community nationwide. 

During 1995 through 1997 American Latent Print Examiners established minimum qualification, training and quality assurance SWGFAST guidelines through review, discussion and feedback at local and national meetings, and through peer review in professional journals. 

Latent Print Examiners are able to reliably make positive identifications: 

1.  With appropriate training (SWGFAST training content guidelines); 

2.  With appropriate experience (CLPE requirements and SWGFAST training guidelines); 

3.  With appropriate ability (initial competency testing for CLPE, and annual proficiency testing as recommended by SWGFAST QA guidelines); 

4. When using the scientific procedure of ACE-V as follows: 

Analysis – the qualitative and quantitative assessment of Level 1, 2 and 3 details to determine their proportion, interrelationship and value to individualize. 

Comparison – to examine the attributes observed during analysis in order to determine agreement or discrepancies between two friction ridge impressions. 

Evaluation –   the cyclical procedure of comparison between two friction ridge impressions to effect a decision, i.e., made by the same friction skin, not made by the same friction skin, or insufficient detail to form a conclusive decision. 

Verification – an independent analysis, comparison and evaluation by a second qualified examiner of the friction ridge impressions. (SWGFAST QA guidelines) 

Friction ridge identification reliability is insured by Training, Experience and Ability coupled with ACE-V to effect a positive identification when sufficient quality (clarity) and quantity of corresponding Level 1, 2 and 3 detail exists.  Quality (clarity) and quantity vary with each friction ridge impression. 

Analysis is objective. 

Comparison uses objective observations. 

The final identification decision is subjective and is reached when sufficient quality (clarity) and quantity of corresponding Level 1, 2 and 3 friction ridge details are present. 

The quality (clarity) and quantity of details necessary to effect the identification can vary based on training, experience and ability of the Latent Print Examiner. 

Even though each latent print can have different quality (clarity) and quantity of Level 1, 2 and 3 details... Latent Print Examiners with similar training, experience and ability should be able to identify the same latent and inked prints.

Quality assurance and quality control guidelines exist to detect erroneous friction ridge impression identifications.  The Examiner making the error is immediately suspended from casework activity.  Remedies to insure operational reliability include the following: 

  • Return to friction ridge identification duties only after retraining, evaluation and tested ability indicate the expert can operate at zero error rate; 

  • Permanent transfer to other duties; 

  • Employment termination;

David Ashbaugh's important Ridgeology publication defines Level 1, 2 and 3 details and explains in plain language the scientific methodology called ACE-V in use by Latent Print Examiners worldwide. 

 Return to Page Top

The Acceptable Error Rate for Friction Skin Identifications is ZERO
If you are a Latent Print Examiner, you know the above statement to be true.  If you are an attorney, police administrator or other non-expert, this may sound unrealistically strict.  Scientists generally concur that a reliability of 95% constitutes scientific certainty (1), (2).  In many areas of science and many professions, such reliability serves society well.  For example, the acceptable error rate for Chicken Sexers (persons who examine the backsides of one-day-old chicks to sort males from females) is between 2.3 and 5 percent when examining 700 to 800 chicks per hour. 

A latent finger or palm print "identification" is the determination that two corresponding areas of friction skin impressions originated from the same person to the exclusion of all others.  This absolute identification decision can carry great weight in police decisions about investigations, and court decisions about guilt or innocence.

Latent Print Examiner errors involving evaluation (whether marks are of value or not) and elimination (marks were not made by a person) are serious, but do not normally carry the same potential for harm as erroneous identifications.  An example of the degree of importance afforded identification decisions can be seen in scoring procedures for friction ridge impression comparison tests.  Universally, even if an exam has hundreds of latent prints and thousands of record (inked) prints, some mistakes involving evaluation or elimination are expected, but a single erroneous identification is automatic failure.  The acceptable finger or palm print identification error rate is zero

Because in any field of human endeavor there will always be errors, quality control and quality assurance standards are necessary to protect society.  Standards for initial "training to competency," case by case quality control, and long term quality assurance including life cycle training and periodic proficiency testing are essential.  Periodic proficiency testing can reveal bad habits developed since initial training to competency.  It may also reveal deteriorating eyesight or other human deficiencies impacting casework. 

One set of standards is set forth in the Quality Assurance Guidelines of the Scientific Working Group on Friction Ridge Analysis, Study and Technology (SWGFAST). 

When erroneous identification decisions (not just clerical errors and not just failing to find a "match") are detected, most agencies immediately suspend the examiner(s) from further casework activity.  Remedies to ensure a zero error rate include the following: 

Return of the examiner(s) to friction ridge identification duties only after retraining and evaluation indicate the expert(s) can operate at zero identification error rate; 

Permanent transfer to other duties; 

Employment termination.


Return to Page Top

Third Case - another problem identification from the same EU Laboratory as above. 

Click here for details about this case and the resulting inquiry, and government laboratory quality control/quality assurance improvements.

Original Evidence Surface
Latent Print
Record Print
Click on the images above to see larger jpg images.

If you are an expert:

Click here to download a large tif file of the latent print (approx. 2300K file size). 
Click here to download a large tif file of the record print (approx. 2800K file size). 
As can be seen from the left and middle images above, the luminescing latent print was photographed on a curved surface. 

Fingerprint experts presented testimony about the latent and record prints, charting many "matching points" to prove the "identification."  Four of the alleged "matching points" are  indicated with red and green dots on the image below. 


Click on the above image to see an even larger image.  The blue lines on the images match the same relative position as red lines used on  court chart images by the fingerprint experts. 

The images presented above are much sharper than charted images used in court with this "identification."  You can see the dots of the "coach scene" background pattern in the latent print photos on this page, versus the blurred court chart images of the latent print. 

Click  above to see a larger image.
Click  above to see a larger image.

image Close-up of seven of the inked print points on the fingerprint experts' court chart.
image Close-up of seven of the latent print points on the fingerprint experts' court chart.
image Close-up of the same area of the latent print in much sharper focus.  The blue lines correspond to the fingerprint experts' charted red lines. 
image Close-up of the same area of the latent print in much sharper focus (here without the blue lines). 

    Return to Page Top


Fourth Case -
These prints are the best images of the Madrid Erroneous Identification submitted to the webservant to date.  These are not official photos from any government agency.  These images do not allege to accurately represent the spatial resolution, radiometric resolution or other variables of the images produced in Spain and examined by the American experts.  They are presented here for the limited evaluation possible from such unofficial images.  As time permits, the webservant will prepare additional demonstrative images.  Should any of the concerned parties desire to provide images more closely representing the actual evidence, your webservant will post them.
Click on the small images to see larger images. 
thumbnail Madrid Latent

Madrid Error Latent Print
thumbnail Madrid Latent

Ouhnane Daoud's Record Print
thumbnail Madrid Record

Madrid Error Record Print
thumbnail Rotated Latent Madrid

Madrid Error Latent Print
(rotated 17 degrees CCW)
thumbnail Madrid Latent

Ouhnane Daoud's Record Print
(not rotated, cropped to match corresponding latent area)
thumbnail Rotate Record Madrid

Madrid Error Record Print
(not rotated, cropped to match corresponding latent area)
The US Department of Justice released images of Ouhnane Daoud's fingerprints, and multiple versions of American crime lab charts for the above impressions, in the online report at  


Lana Canen Case
Timeline details and images provided by Kathleen Bright-Birnbaum, CLPE

August 2002 - Helen Sailor, a 94 year old blind woman, was found murdered in her Elkhart, Indiana apartment.  

August 2004 - Lana Canen was arrested and charged with Sailor’s murder by the Elkhart Police Department.  

August 2005 - Lana Canen is convicted of Sailor’s murder and sentenced to 55 years in prison.  The only physical evidence presented at trial connecting Canen to the murder, is a latent fingerprint identified as belonging to Canen by Detective Dennis Chapman of the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department.  

June 2011 - Kathleen Bright-Birnbaum, CLPE, of Desert Forensics, is hired by Defense Attorney Cara Wieneke to examine the fingerprint evidence and testimony presented at Canen’s trial as part of a Post Conviction Review.  Ms Bright-Birnbaum’s exam reveals that the latent print identification presented at trial is erroneous.  

August 2012 - Ms Bright-Birnbaum presents her finding at a hearing before the original trial judge.  Detective Chapman also testifies at the hearing and admits to the error.  The judge orders all the fingerprint evidence be reviewed by the Indiana State Police Crime Lab which verifies Ms Bright-Birnbaum’s findings.             

November 2012 - Lana Canen’s murder conviction is vacated and she is released from prison.

Click on the small images to see larger images. 

thumbnail Canen Latent
Latent Print 

thumbnail Canen Record
Laura Canen's Record Print
side-by-side images
Side-by-Side Images of from Laura Canen Case  




As an expert working in fingerprints since 1971, I have seen some of the skeletons in my discipline's closet.  In the below paragraphs you can read my personal reasons for building this page.  --Ed German

In 1984, a friend of mine (a Latent Print Examiner in the Midwest) brought me the charts shown above in the "first case" (a burglary investigation).  That same day I (and coworker Steve Kasarsky) caused an incarcerated prisoner to be freed and charges dropped because we pointed out the error.  The wrongfully incarcerated prisoner was on parole from prison.  The Latent Print Examiner, being relatively new in the business, had not previously caused anyone's incarceration based upon fingerprint evidence (the chart represents his first latent print "identification" that resulted in a warrant issued for an arrest) and the Prosecutor decided that no future warrants would be issued based on just the local examiner's work.  The "first case" Latent Print Examiner was decertified and continued working as a policeman and crime scene technician (not as a Latent Print Examiner issuing identification reports).  He is still employed by the same agency and to my knowledge has since always submitted potential fingerprint identifications to outside agencies for expert examination.  I do not reveal the city or state here because I am proud of his (and his department's) integrity and professionalism. 

Note:  The below 1987 incident is in no way a reference to any Latent Print Examiners currently working in North Carolina (the persons involved are no longer employed by any law enforcement agency at all to my knowledge).  The City/County Bureau of Identification which employed the below Latent Print Examiners no longer exists.  Both the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department and Fayetteville City Police Department have advanced tremendously since the 1980s, incorporating modern procedures and guidelines (IAI, OSAC, SWGFAST, etc.) in all areas of Latent Print Examination. 

In 1987, a Latent Print Examiner with a City/County Bureau of Identification in North Carolina, brought me a crime scene mark (latent fingerprint) for "computer enhancement" because he was having trouble charting it.  I told the Examiner that no enhancement in the world would ever change the fact that the print was not made by the suspect.  The Examiner said he wanted a second opinion and I sent him immediately to Marty Ludas in Raleigh, North Carolina who also told the Examiner it was a "bum ident."  On the morning jury selection commenced for the trial, the Prosecutor related to Defense and the court that he had recently learned that although there was enough similarity in the latent print to make a tentative identification, it was NOT a positive identification. The charges were dropped on the spot and the defendant (who had been jailed for 13 months primarily based on the identification) was immediately released. 

When I learned of the sequence of events, I contacted the Prosecutor and Chief of Detectives in North Carolina to relate that the error had been revealed two weeks earlier and was not even "close" to being an identification.  Also, because the erroneous "expert" was self-trained and was the trainer for the only other "expert" in his office (the blind leading the blind regarding expertise), I urged the Chief of Detectives to have 100% of all their prior casework reviewed by outside experts.  The local police balked at my suggestion and told me their experts said it was a once in a lifetime error and I was just attacking them because they refused to participate in the IAI's certification testing program. 

I continued to assert that where there is smoke, there is fire. After several calls and formal letters to the local police and Prosecutor, I finally "won" and it was decided that no new warrants would be issued based on the North Carolina examiner's reports until completion of an outside review of all their casework. The North Carolina state crime lab declined to participate, but Robert Hazen, Senior Expert at the FBI's Latent Fingerprint Section, agreed to supervise the 100% review by his office's experts. The review revealed a number of serious errors, including erroneous fingerprint identifications involving co-suspects as well as "elimination" prints... and also revealed that valid identifications against suspects in serious crimes had been missed. Nobody else was freed from jail, but I still felt vindicated from the claims I was persecuting the two "experts." The last I heard, both experts had left the agency and the senior of the two was teaching Criminal Justice at a college. 

I know that fingerprint (latent print examination) experts perform an invaluable service to society. I also believe that quality control/assurance and other checks and balances such as international peer review must exist to insure the discipline's reliability. 

In the "first case," the wrongfully accused was immediately released.  In the North Carolina case, I have always regretted that the defendant spent an additional two weeks in jail because I trusted the system to notify Defense and the court immediately.  

If you are an expert and have knowledge of an erroneous identification impacting a person's liberty or reputation, you must "do what has to be done" to inform the investigators in charge of the case... and verify timely notification to the Prosecutor and/or Defense/Court. 

If you are an expert and have additional examples of erroneous identifications you think might benefit the discipline through Internet posting, please e-mail me

--Ed German
  Certified Latent Print Examiner, IAI
  Certified Biometrics Professional, IEEE


* As of 2018, the term positive identification (meaning absolute certainty) has been replaced in reports and testimony by most agencies/experts with more accurate terminology, including variations of wording such as the following:

Examination and comparison of similarities and differences between the impressions resulted in the opinion there is a much greater support for the impressions originating from the same source than there is for them originating from different sources.

A related 2014 paper titled "Individualization is dead, long live individualization! Reforms of reporting practices for fingerprint analysis in the United States" by Simon Cole, Professor at University of California, Irvine is linked here.

Return to Page Top

The webservant desires to assure readers that the content herein does not purport to represent the position or opinion of the US Government, US Department of Defense, US Army, US Army Criminal Investigation Command, Intelligence Division of the HQ, US Army Criminal Investigation Command, FBI, SWGFAST, ASCLD/LAB, or any other entity or organization with which the webservant was or is affiliated.