Fingerprint ruling unjust, hurtful to victim's family

November 06, 2007|By Wayne T. Fleming Sr.

I am the father of the murder victim in the case in which a Baltimore County Circuit judge ruled that fingerprint evidence will not be allowed. I can't tell you how devastated my family is that the judge picked our case to challenge more than 100 years of precedents to make her point that current fingerprint forensic methodologies, although widely used around the world, have an insufficient scientific basis to be allowed as evidence in a capital case.

Yet the grieving family, having placed its trust and confidence in the judicial system to render justice, is expected to chalk it up as the cost of being civilized. That price is too high.

As the legal community scurries to make talking points and pontificate on the potential ramifications of this opinion, attention is taken away from the case immediately affected by this miscarriage of justice. My family lost our son, brother, nephew, cousin, grandson, uncle, husband and father in broad daylight while he was departing a shopping mall parking lot.

My son was shot in the head, from behind, by someone who doesn't deserve the many blessings our civilized society works so hard to extend to all.

Our society has spent years debating the notion of cruel and unusual punishment. When do we start the debate on cruel and unusual protections?

In this case in which the fingerprint evidence is so important, Judge Susan M. Souder is making her point despite the cost to my family in particular and society as a whole. I assume that she believes that she is right. But what if she is wrong? How can she feel so secure in her technical academic musing, which would strike down the validity of a scientific field with more than 100 years of practice?

All of our complex sciences at some point default to statistical expressions of probability and are subject to errors of interpretation. They are all in some respects fallible.

Do we discard them all because of it? No, we continue to use our best practices, while working like the dickens to cost-effectively improve them.

In this case, the judge could have chosen to instruct the jury, reasonably, to note the imperfections of the science when considering such evidence. Instead, she struck the fingerprint evidence altogether, suggesting that she thinks herself smarter than the potential jurors and the rest of the world in these matters. The judge's opinion in this case is wrong, even if she is right about fingerprints.

There are better ways to force this debate than to strip the Maryland justice system of such a tool whose usefulness anyone with common sense can recognize in our effort to cope with a society riddled with crime, especially in and around Baltimore.

Today, it's my family that has to cope with the effects of this opinion; tomorrow, it might be yours.

Mr. Fleming's son, Warren T. Fleming, was shot and killed leaving his business at Security Square Mall on Jan. 5, 2006. Mr. Fleming's e-mail is

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