May 31, 2004

Speaking of Blind Spots [11:39 am]

This is a little off-topic, but I have been persistently confused by the argument that fingerprints are never wrong, while DNA typing evidence at least comes with a statistical estimate of error: Can Prints Lie? Yes, Man Finds to His Dismay

The judge, Alan L. Page, had been told the prints were the same. “The general rule is, the prints don’t lie,” Judge Page had said earlier. “If you got the same prints that Leo Rosario has, you’re Leo Rosario. And there’s nothing I can do about it.”

So Mr. Sanchez, in late 2000, was sent back for another week in a grim detention center in Lower Manhattan, severed from his family and livelihood, because his fingerprints had been mistakenly placed on the official record of another man.

Remarkably, this was not the first time Mr. Sanchez had paid for that mistake. He had been arrested three times for Mr. Rosario’s crimes, and ultimately spent a total of two months in custody and was threatened with deportation before the mistake was traced and resolved in 2002.

Mr. Sanchez’s ordeal, unearthed from court records and interviews, amounts to a strange, sometimes absurd odyssey through a criminal justice system that made a single error and then compounded it time and again by failing to correct it.

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