Many fingerprint analysts use standard procedures to mark different levels of detail in a suspect’s fingerprint and in a “latent print” left at a crime scene. But making a so-called individualization—a conclusion that the prints are from the same source—is where it gets a little fuzzy. After examiners look at enough prints known to be from the same source and from different sources, their brain gets calibrated to some internal threshold of similarity or confirmation bias.
freedom story: LANA CANEN
At that time, Chapman conducted a “level-one basic comparison” on key similarities between a latent print (one retrieved from the crime scene) and fingerprints taken from Canen when she was initially taken into custody. Despite his lack of proper training in conducting latent print comparisons and despite his lack of qualifications, Chapman testified that the fingerprint recovered from the plastic pill container in Sailor’s home matched Canen’s finger.
Canen was convicted and sentenced to 55 years in prison, with the fingerprint being the only evidence against her. After Canen’s conviction, attorney Cara Wieneke took on the case, seeking to prove Canen’s innocence. Wieneke hired an independent expert to conduct an analysis of the fingerprint. The expert told Wieneke that based on her analysis, Canen was actually excluded.
According to Wieneke, the prosecutor refused a request to have the state crime lab re-analyze the print. Canen was then granted an evidentiary hearing and her expert prepared a report on her finding which was turned over to the prosecutor and reviewed by Detective Chapman. According to Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers, Detective Chapman saw that evidence depicted a higher level of analysis of the print, the sheriff said, and Chapman was convinced that he had actually made an error.
Chapman reported his error to his supervisor, and Rogers ordered an internal investigation. At the evidentiary hearing, Detective Chapman admitted that he made a misidentification within Canen’s trial and that he overstated his fingerprint examination experience to jurors at the time of the trial. He testified that his current opinion is based on additional training he had received since Canen’s trial. The prosecution, which previously had objected to Wieneke’s request that the Indiana State Police Crime Lab examine the evidence, decided to send the evidence to the lab. Analysts at the lab confirmed the latent fingerprint was not Canen’s.
Wieneke filed a motion for Canen’s immediate release from prison and the prosecution offered to negotiate a plea agreement for time served. On September 28, 2012, after Canen refused to negotiate, the Elkhart County District Attorney’s Office joined in the motion for Canen’s release. On November 2, 2012, the conviction was vacated, and the charge was dismissed and Canen was released from prison.
For more details on the case of Lana Canen, please see her profile on the National Registry of Exonerations.
Lana Canen of Ekhart, Indiana, was convicted in 2002 for the murder of her neighbor, Helen Sailor and had her conviction reversed based on faulty fingerprint analysis. Canen was convicted of being an accomplice in the beating, robbery, and murder of Sailor. At trial, Detective Dennis Chapman testified that fingerprints from a pill container found at the crime scene matched Canen.
Check out the resources below for more stories and resources on fingerprint analysis!
THE 2004 MADRID TRAIN BOMBING | CBS Sunday Morning News
Brandon Mayfield was wrongfully accused of the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, Spain which killed over 200 innocent civilians. While fingerprint analysis oftentimes offers valuable evidence in solving crimes, it is not entirely foolproof and can lead to the conviction of the wrong person as seen in this 10-minute video clip, produced by CBS News.