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Passage Discussion

The authors in this dual passage discuss the reliability of fingerprint identification in criminal cases.

Passage A

The author of passage A appears to be an appellate judge reviewing the trial court’s ruling in a
criminal case. The issue before the court is whether the lower court appropriately used fingerprint
evidence against the defendant. The judge concurs with the decision rendered by the court, holding
that fingerprint identification is a valid and reliable form of evidence that has withstood the test of
  • Paragraph One: The first paragraph introduces the nature of the case (an appeal of a criminal
    conviction) and the issue at stake (whether the fingerprint evidence was
    appropriately used against the defendant at trial). The paragraph ends by
    outlining a summary of the defendant’s position.

    Paragraph Two: In second paragraph, the author delves into a more detailed description of the
    defendant’s argument: (1) there are no established error rates of fingerprint
    identification; and (2) there are no uniform, objective standards regarding the
    number of points of identification required for a positive identification.

    Paragraph Three: The third paragraph presents the author’s main point. The language resembles
    that of a judicial holding: “this court” is reluctant to reject a reliable form of
    evidence that has withstood the test of time.

    Paragraph Four: The final paragraph outlines the judge’s reasoning for the decision rendered
    in the third paragraph. Specifically, fingerprint examiners are held to uniform
    standards and apply a consistent “points and characteristics” approach to
    fingerprint identification. The judge also concurs with the lower court that
    fingerprint identification has a low error rate.
Passage B

The author of Passage B criticizes the practice of fingerprint identification as lacking in uniform
standards, precision, and reliability. This author’s position is not unlike that of the defendant’s
(appellant’s), alluded to in passage A.
  • Paragraph One: The passage begins by describing several different standards for evaluating
    whether two fingerprints match: “point-counting” and a “holistic approach.”
    The author concludes that there is no generally agreed-upon standard for
    determining a match.

    Paragraph Two: The second paragraph focuses on the possibility of error inherent in the
    “point-counting” method of identification, and also raises the issue of partial
    or smudged fingerprints.

    Paragraph Three: The final paragraph bemoans the risk of mistakenly declaring a match,
    suggesting that the possibility of error may be higher than expected.
Passage Similarities and Differences

The two passages portray sharply contrasting viewpoints. The authors would disagree over whether
fingerprint identification provides a reliable form of evidence in criminal proceedings, and have
different views on the probability of erroneous identification. They do agree, however, that further
testing and more consistent standards for fingerprint identification would be desirable, because
fingerprint examiners (or the agencies employing them) use different standards for determining when
to declare a match.

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