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Fingerprint analyses prompt false arrests

October 17, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
An LAPD internal investigation reveals that police arrested innocent people after faulty fingerprint analysis linked them to crimes they didn't commit.The report highlights two cases in which charges were dropped, but LAPD officials say they don't know how many other people might have been wrongly accused over the years as a result of poor fingerprint analysis.

LAPD's Latent Print Unit is under fire. One analyst was dismissed. Three others were suspended because of shoddy work. The disclosure comes from an internal report leaked to the L.A. Times.

Faulty fingerprint evidence led to the arrest of two people who were headed to jail until the lapse was discovered.

"I believe that jurors think it's gold-plated, that is the most convincing kind of evidence they may be exposed to," said L.A. County Public Defender Michael Judge.

The revelation alarms the Michael Judge, who only learned of the memo Thursday. He has no idea how many cases may be tainted.

"What I need from the Los Angeles Police Department is the identity of the fingerprint examiners who failed to follow the appropriate procedures so that I can ascertain which of the cases we currently have, and also which of the cases that have gone through the courts involved those individuals," said Judge.

"We are doing random audits along the way and we're going back to look at prior work that was done, but we're in the middle of this review. It's going to be quite extensive," said LAPD Assistant Chief Sharon Papa.

According to the Times report, the LAPD memo cites the case of Maria Delosange Maldonado. Investigators say her fingerprints matched those at a burglary. The prints' accuracy was questioned at trial. The prosecutor decided they were unable to proceed because print identification was erroneous.

It's a major credibility issue now, according to the public defender.

"The consequences of having a faulty match are extraordinary," said Judge. "We are talking death-penalty cases, murder cases where the penalty is not death, could be robbery and rape cases where the sentences are exceptionally long."

"We would always hope that our employees act properly and exercise their best judgment, but as in anything in life, unfortunately, people do make mistakes for a variety of reasons, so we can't make excuses for this one, we can only make sure we put protocols in place to prevent it in the future," said Ass't. Chief Papa.

While the LAPD audit is under way, the public defender is calling for a separate investigation by its Public Integrity Division.

 

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