From Canada, An Interesting Review of the Assessment of Fingerprint Evidence: R v. Bornyk

In R. v. Bornyk, 2013 BCSC 1927, October 22, 2013, the accused was charged with the offence of break and entry.  The sole evidence against the accused was “a single fingerprint found inside the home.”

At the trial, Corporal Wolbeck, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police forensic identification specialist, was qualified as an expert in the identification, comparison and individualization of fingerprints.

During his testimony, Corporal Wolbeck indicated that:

A. It’s interesting to note that any fingerprint individualization that’s made, whether it be at the Canadian Police College or throughout my apprenticeship, if there is any errors made on a fingerprint, it’s immediate withdrawal or removal from the program.  There’s no errors allowed in fingerprint identification.  That continues today.  There is [sic] no errors permitted in fingerprint identification.

Q. So then does that mean, then, Corporal, that every time you have looked at like an unknown print, or a found print, and compared it to the known print, if you’ve made an identification that’s incorrect, then you are no longer in the position that you’re in, you’re not longer a forensic identification expert?

A. That’s correct.  We’re removed from the program immediately.

Q. You’ve never made an error?

A. I’ve never made an error.


Corporal Wolbeck then provided the following opinion:

Based on my training, knowledge and experience, I formed the opinion that the latent impression marked R1, located on the side of the “Living Dead Dolls” box, and the inked impression of the right ring finger, as recorded on the fingerprint form bearing the name of Timothy Dale BORNYK, were deposited by the same person.


In assessing and weighing this opinion, the trial judge considered the following material:

  • Rt. Hon. Sir Anthony Campbell, “The Fingerprint Inquiry Report,” Scotland, 14 December 2011, APS Group Scotland, Edinburgh;
  • National Research Council of the National Academies, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States, A Path Forward,” The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2009;
  • Expert Working Group on Human Factors in Latent Print Analysis.  Latent Print Examination and Human Factors:  Improving the Practice through a Systems Approach.  U.S. Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Washington, D.C., 2012;
  • S.A. Cole and A. Roberts, “Certainty, Individualisation and the Subjective Nature of Expert Fingerprint Evidence,” [2012] Crim L.R. Issue 11;
  • The National Research Council’s study “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States, A Path Forward”;
  • Heidi Eldrige, “Meeting the Fingerprint Admissibility Challenge in a Post-NAS Environment,” Journal of Forensic Identification, 61(5), 2011 at 430;
  • Glenn Langenburg, “A Performance Study of the ACE V Process:  A Pilot Study to Measure the Accuracy, Precision, Reproducibility, Repeatability, and Biasability of Conclusions Resulting from the ACE V Process,” Journal of Forensic Identification, 59(2), 2009 at 219; and
  • Michelle Reznicek, Robin M. Ruth and Dawn M. Schilens, “ACE V and the Scientific Method,” Journal of Forensic Identification, 60(1), 2010 at 87.


The trial judge indicated that there were a “number of troubling aspects arise from Corporal Wolbeck’s report and testimony” and concluded as follows:

While the usable portion of the latent fingerprint and the known fingerprint are quite similar, I have more than a reasonable doubt that there is a match of the latent fingerprint to the known fingerprint.  Accordingly, I acquit the accused.

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