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Suspect Identities


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Table of Contents

Prologue: Jekylls and Hydes 1. Impostors and Incorrigible Rogues 2. Measuring the Criminal Body 3. Native Prints 4. Degenerate Fingerprints 5. Fingerprinting Foreigners 6. From Anthropometry to Dactyloscopy 7. Bloody Fingerprints and Brazen Experts 8. Dazzling Demonstrations and Easy Assumptions 9. Identification at a Distance 10. Digital Digits 11. Fraud, Fabrication, and False Positives 12. The Genetic Age Epilogue: Bodily Identities Notes Credits Acknowledgments Index

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Suspect Identities is a fascinating account of an important subject. In his history of identification techniques from fingerprints to DNA, Simon Cole tells the story of our recurring attempts to forge reliable links between bodies, persons, and crimes. As Cole shows in these pages, the aim of these techniques, from Martin Guerre to O. J. Simpson, is not just to link persons with criminal acts. It is to link persons to themselves, to establish their identities with the certainty of science, and to use these identifiers for bureaucratic and diagnostic purposes. And therein lies their danger, as well as their usefulness, as critics of 'DNA fingerprinting' are beginning to discover. Written with intelligence, wit, and insight, this book will stand as the definitive account for a long time to come. -- David Garland, author of The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Late Modernity Cole's Suspect Identities is far more than a masterly and detailed chronicle of the journey from the anonymous mobile stranger in the seventeenth century to today's DNA-fingerprinted sex offender whose moves are tracked via the Internet. It is also an astute analysis of the social, political, and economic forces that explain why the journey took certain paths. This book sets the high benchmark for scholarship in this area. -- Troy Duster, New York University Suspect Identities shows that a fascinating journey through the history of science can illuminate current controversies. This well-written book teaches us as much about the problems facing forensic scientists today as it does the history of fingerprinting. -- Barry Scheck, Co-Director, The Innocence Project

About the Author

Simon A. Cole is Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine.


Cole's comprehensive first book investigates the tangled intersections of scientific identification and law enforcement, entering similar territory as Colin Beavan's Fingerprints (see review above), but with more rigorous detail and attention to historical ambiguities. Cole, with a Ph.D. in science and technology studies, describes how the anonymity of the growing cities introduced "identification as a problem without a solution" (prefigured by the 16th-century Martin Guerre case in which the suspect's identity remained in question after the conflicting testimonies of 150 of his townsmen), even as the need was developing to identify and isolate career criminals. Bertillonage, the foremost anthropometry (bodily measurement) system, was believed to be a breakthrough and persisted into the 1930s. Cole details decades of conflict and competition between Bertillon's advocates and those of the radical and haphazardly developing science of fingerprinting (which was initially envisioned for civil verification, e.g., for payrolls). Although successful prosecutions heralded the embrace of fingerprinting by the 1920s, controversy involving partial or single prints kept validity at bay. Furthermore, the lack of a single, central fingerprint database "made fingerprinting a somewhat empty promise," as did the incompatibility of competing fingerprinting systems. Political overtones surface as Cole tracks America's war on crime, beginning when J. Edgar Hoover unsuccessfully sought universal fingerprinting. Late chapters like "Fraud, Fabrication, and False Positives" address recent developments including the controversial certification process for fingerprint examiners, defense attorney attacks on examiner credibility or corruption, and what Cole portrays as the premature reliance on DNA typing and other new forms of biometric identification. Drier but more in-depth and exacting than Beavan's, this well-wrought history will be admired by scholars and serious lay readers. Photos and illus. (May 16) Forecast: For a smaller, more dedicated audience than Fingerprints, but the author has been garnering attention as an expert in the field: he's recently been interviewed by the Economist, Lingua Franca, the AP and the New York Times. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

For most of the century since it made its courtroom debut, fingerprinting has enjoyed an impeccable reputation for identifying criminals. What jury would acquit a suspect if his prints matched those found at the scene of a crime?...Simon one of a small group of people that has started looking at the technique which, above all others, gave forensic 'science' its scientific status. And, surprisingly, he has found it is scientifically and statistically wanting. The Economist Cole's treatment of fingerprinting is...commendable...[He] shows that...court cases...were not quite as singular in ascendancy of fingerprinting over the Bertillon system, but rather added weights that finally tipped the scales in favor of fingerprinting; he is also cautionary about its claim to absolute reliability. Booklist 20010401 Cole's investigates the tangled intersections of scientific identification and law enforcement...[with] rigorous detail and attention to historical ambiguities...This well-wrought history will be admired by scholars and serious lay readers. Publishers Weekly 20010409 For almost a century, fingerprinting remained one of the most respected tools of forensic science. Only in the early nineties did faith in its reliability begin to erode. In [Suspect Identities], Simon A. Cole recounts how a number of cases involving the New York State Police revealed tampering with fingerprint evidence, as well as the incompetence of many police labs. -- William Cohen New Yorker 20010604 Cole weaves the intriguing tale of how and why people were identified as who they claimed to be. This history begins in the era where identification was largely unnecessary because people did not travel very far and were known in their own communities. As both travel and criminal behavior increased, the need to identify people grew...Cole describes the ancient use of fingerprints up through time until they became commonplace for use in identifying criminals. He presents an excellent account of the problems and controversies surrounding the use of fingerprints for identification, ending with the current issues of using DNA for identification. The illustrative stories are excellent, making this a fascinating trip through identification history. -- J. A. Brown Choice 20011201 Simon A. Cole's well-written and interesting book is a cultural, social, and scientific history of fingerprint identification. It makes the intriguing argument that scientific merit had nothing to do with the acceptance of fingerprints as uniquely good identification evidence. -- Adina Schwartz New York Law Journal 20020207 [A] fascinating, thought-provoking book. Science

Most of us still think of fingerprint analysis as a kind of gold standard of criminal forensics, expressly developed as an indisputable means of catching the bad guy. Cole points out that these assumptions aren't necessarily warranted. Fingerprinting was initially utilized in British-ruled India and with Chinese immigrants in the United States simply to sort out people. Only later was it used for criminal identification and even later still as forensic evidence. For many years, it was secondary to the Bertillon system of anthropometric measurement as a method of identifying criminals. Finally, after a half-century as that forensic gold standard, it was called into question by issues of print forgery, incompetent examiners, and the methodology of latent print identification, allowing DNA typing to assume the role of a possible new forensic standard. A fascinating bit of social history but rough going for the lay reader in its technical discussions, this work by first-time author Cole is recommended for larger public and academic libraries. Jim Burns, Ottumwa P.L., IA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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