Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Roundup

On Thursday, lawyers for several Guantanamo detainees asked a judge to rule that they are entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions. This represents the first test of the Obama administration to rule on the issue.

The Los Angeles Times ran an editorial today calling fingerprint matching an "inexact science." The subhead reads, "Although it is accepted that prints are unique, courts continue to have questions about using them to make IDs."

In 2007, a Maryland judge threw out fingerprint evidence in a death penalty case, calling it "a subjective, untested, unverifiable identification procedure that purports to be infallible."

The ruling sided with the scientists, law professors and defense lawyers who for a decade had been noting the dearth of research into the reliability of fingerprinting. Their lonely crusade for sound science in the courtroom has often been ignored by the courts, but last month it was endorsed by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences.
In 1905, Henry Faulds, a Scottish doctor and the first person to propose lifting and comparing fingerprints to solve crimes, wrote, "The least smudginess in the printing of them might easily veil important divergences ... with appalling results... [Police are] apt to misunderstand or overstrain, in their natural eagerness to secure convictions." The more things change, the more they stay the same, apparently.

In the wake of New Mexico's abolition of capital punishment, has an insightful survey of the complex and nuanced landscape of death penalty law around the nation. (By the way, as if I needed another reason to dislike Sarah Palin, she's apparently pushing to re-establish the death penalty in Alaska after it was abolished in 1957.)

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