2006-10-14 : Investigators can easily transfer fingerprints

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2006-10-14 : Investigators can easily transfer fingerprints

Postby GOSA » Wed, 2006-10-18 14:12

Investigators can easily transfer evidence, testify expert witnesses
Fingerprints do tell lies

October 14, 2006 Edition 1

Helen Bamford

The use of fingerprints as vital evidence to convict criminals has received a blow with the disclosure by forensic experts that this type of evidence is easily falsified.

This has emerged as crucial fingerprint evidence has been challenged in two high profile cases in the Cape High Court .

Three forensic experts interviewed this week said they knew of cases where fingerprints had been falsified.

Local private forensic expert David Klatzow said he was involved in one case where a Cape Town policeman had been charged with a staggering 57 cases of fingerprint fraud.

He said the courts needed to apply a high degree of caution in accepting evidence without checking that it was up to proper standards. He added that, while fingerprints never lied, police officers often did.

Fingerprints as evidence have recently come under the spotlight in two high-profile criminal cases, that of Fred van der Vyver, accused of bludgeoning his girlfriend Inge Lotz to death, and Dina Rodrigues, who is accused of masterminding the murder of six-month-old baby Jordan Leigh Norton.

This week, the Cape High Court heard that fingerprint experts have accused the state of fabricating the (fingerprint) evidence against Van der Vyver, while in the case against Rodrigues, her defence attorney complained that five sets of prints had been taken from her because the police kept losing them.

The court also heard earlier that chemical tests on a waybill that implicated her in the murder first found none of her fingerprints. However, a second set of tests performed later found two thumbprints.

In the case against Van der Vyver, the Old Mutual actuarial assistant's lawyer, advocate Dup de Bruyn, told the Cape High Court that experts called in by Van der Vyver's family were convinced a fingerprint found on a DVD was lifted from a drinking glass and not from the DVD cover as the state alleges.

Earlier this week, in the popular television programme CSI Miami, a serial killer lifted a fingerprint from a glass and planted it on a murder weapon in an effort to frame a member of the investigating team, which is easily done according to Klatzow. "There is no question that you can transfer fingerprints from one item to another or just lie as to where you picked them up."

To prove his point, he showed Weekend Argus some of the techniques and methods used to transfer fingerprints.

Klatzow said that at a crime scene police investigators brushed various surfaces and items with a powder to look for prints which were then lifted using a sticky tape.

The powder imprint was then transferred to a special piece of paper with a description on the back with details such as place found, date as well as the signature of the police officer and sometimes a witness. He said one way of cheating was for a police officer to clean the fingerprints off the paper using a handkerchief.

Then when a suspect was taken in for fingerprinting one of the prints could be lifted and placed on the same piece of paper with the information on the back.

Klatzow said another way of falsifying the information was for a police officer to simply lie about where they had found the fingerprint.

Weekend Argus spoke to two forensic experts in Pretoria, previously with the police, who both said they had heard of cases where fingerprints had been falsified or there had been a break in the chain from the scene of the crime to the local fingerprint office.

Neither wanted to be named as they still worked closely with the police, but both expressed a concern about the standards at the police laboratories.

Defence attorney William Booth said the evidence from police experts had long been accepted as correct and that only recently was it being contested. He added that clients often could not afford a private lawyer and a private forensic expert to contest the state's case.

"But it is not just in the movies where evidence is planted or fingerprints transferred," he warned.
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