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The Emperor's New Clothes: A Guide to Latent Print Testimony (Webinar)
August 27, 2014
National Institute of Justice (NIJ), U.S. Department of Justice
Forensic Technology Center of Excellence
1:00-2:20 p.m. ET
Live virtual classroom
In the tale of the Emperor's New Clothes, a vain emperor commissions a new set of robes that he is told will be invisible to anyone who does not deserve his position, or is extraordinarily stupid or foolish. Of course, nobody wants to admit that they may fall into one of these categories, so they all praise the beauty of the emperorï¿½s clothes as he struts his way through the town in a mighty procession, until one little boy calls out, "But he hasnï¿½t got anything on!"
For over a century, latent print examiners have been testifying more or less the same way. Some of the things they say don't really make much sense. Some of them are based more on belief than science. But they were rarely challenged on these assertions - nobody wanted to be the person who dared to voice that the gold standard of forensic science was not what it claimed to be. Critics who wrote about their concerns were brushed aside as the extraordinarily stupid or foolish.
Then, in 2009, the release of the NAS report signaled the little boy crying out into the crowd. All of a sudden, everyone realized latent print examiners were standing naked in the street. To be fair, much like the emperor, the latent print examiners themselves didnï¿½t realize they were naked. They had bought into the myth along with everyone else.
So now it is time to get dressed again. Latent print examiners need to understand what clothes to wear. Attorneys on direct need to learn to recognize good fashion sense. And attorneys on cross need to know when to cry out, "but he hasn't got anything on!"
This presentation will walk though some of the tough concepts that come up in court for latent print examiners. We will discuss error rate, discriminability, specificity, certainty, variability, uniqueness, and the identification decision in the context of the relevant population.
These topics will be covered in an open, transparent, and non-defensive way that lets latent print examiners know how they can present their findings without feeling exposed, and will let attorneys know how to tell the difference between a thoughtful, transparent expert, and one who is trying to parade by in the Emperor's New Clothes.
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