Courtroom Testimony

After the preparation phase, which includes the pre-trial conference or deposition, is completed, the respective parties (defense, prosecutor, and witnesses) should be ready to testify in the courtroom.

The examiner may be called on to testify in a preliminary hearing, before a grand jury, or at trial. One might ask, what is the difference between a preliminary hearing, a grand jury hearing, and a trial? Why should one be concerned about the different types of proceedings? (See Figure 6.2.).

The preliminary hearing and a grand jury hearing are proceedings to establish probable cause to warrant a trial. The extent of the testimony that will be required in a preliminary hearing and before a grand jury may not be as extensive as trial testimony. The examiner who is called on to testify in any of the proceedings must be prepared to testify as an expert and a professional. Personal feelings have no place in the proceeding. The examiner must remain vigilant, neutral, and testify on the strength of the evidence. The judge or trier of fact (jury) will make the decision or verdict based on the evidence.

Presentation of the Exhibit

Upon presenting fingerprint evidence in court, whether it be comparison results or actual fingerprint cards, the examiner must always remain neutral. The exhibit should first be admitted into evidence and presented to the judge for approval. The expert witness is then provided the opportunity to introduce the exhibit to the jury for testimonial purposes. When presenting any fingerprint evidence to the jury, it is imperative that the examiner explains in a way for the jury to comprehend. For instance, it is not typical for individuals on the jury stand to understand the daily duties or processes of a fingerprint examiner. Therefore, fingerprint terms should be explained at a basic level of understanding (Figure 6.3).

The historic case that allowed fingerprint evidence in the courtroom (People v. Jennings, 1911)

This case would be the first court case that allowed fingerprint evidence into the courtroom. The fingerprints that were presented in People v. Jennings positively identified Thomas Jennings as the killer of Clarence Hiller.

On September 10, 1910, Thomas Jennings burglarized Mr. Hiller’s residence and made contact, they were involved in a physical altercation causing them to fall down the stairs. Mr. Hiller was shot twice by Thomas Jennings and fled the scene when Mrs. Hiller screamed out. Mr. Hiller succumbed to his injuries. The residence was later processed, and fingerprints were found in an area that was freshly painted. Later that night Thomas Jennings was stopped and questioned, he was also found to be carrying a loaded firearm. Routine records check revealed that he was recently released from serving a sentence for burglary and was on parole. Fingerprints examiners compared the fingerprints from the scene of the murder to fingerprints that were on file for Thomas Jennings, and they made a positive identification. Jennings was later convicted for the murder of Mr. Hiller on February i, 1911.

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