Are Numerous Criminal Cases In Jeopardy Because Of Florida’s Faulty Fingerprint Identification System?

INTRODUCTION

You come home from a wonderful evening out on the town to find the front window of your home smashed.  When you go inside, it becomes clear that you’ve been burglarized.  Thousands of dollars of personal possessions were stolen from inside of your dwelling.  You want the guilty burglar caught ASAP!  Cops offer a glimmer of hope after they reveal to you that the perpetrator left fingerprints inside your home.  Hope turns to excitement when you learn that the lifted fingerprints were entered into the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s (FDLE) fingerprint identification system and they matched to Bobby Burglar, a career criminal.  Your excitement is suddenly dimmed when you read an article in today’s paper alleging that Florida’s fingerprint system is flawed.  Will Bobby Burglar escape justice?

ANALYSIS

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s (FDLE) automatic fingerprint identification system (AFIS)  was supposed to provide perfection when it came to fingerprint matches for Florida law enforcement.  What recently released documents actually reveal is that the fingerprint system failed many early tests.  Worse, the technical problems that the AFIS is experiencing, is causing delays in investigations and arrests across Florida.  Even worse than that, there are reports that a number of suspects weren’t properly identified during system searches and, worse, criminal cases using fingerprint evidence could be called into question.
The fingerprint system was created by Motorola and cost $7.4 million to make.  By December of 2012, the FDLE had shelled out an additional $9.2 million on the system, way beyond the department’s estimated maintenance budget.  The worst part about it was the problems weren’t solved, even with the extraordinary amount of extra money thrown at the system.  

FDLE is blaming the many problems on increased usage and demand.  One of the original engineers for Motorola who oversaw the creation of the fingerprint system has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Motorola alleging that the state was defrauded.  He blames FDLE project managers who didn’t do what they were supposed to, naively accepting whatever Motorola gave to them.

If the fingerprint system isn’t working properly, then another one of the most significant concerns is that it could mean that employers conducting background checks, including people supervising children, could have produced inaccurate results.  Additionally, if fingerprint evidence is used to prosecute a defendant, and the system is faulty, prosecutors will have to disclose that damming fact to defense attorneys, who invariably will use that to their clients’ benefit.  In the worst case scenario, prosecutors will have to take another look at all cases where fingerprint evidence was used to convict someone.  Countless criminal cases may be jeopardized.   

CONCLUSION

The problem with the FDLE’s fingerprint system is potentially an enormous one.  If what is being reported is true and supported by evidence, numerous criminal cases may be adversely impacted.  If the only evidence placing Bobby Burglar at the scene of the crime is the fingerprint evidence, then he may beat the rap on this one (assuming the system properly identified him in the first place).