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Photo Finish

NCJ Number
Evidence Technology Magazine Volume: 1 Issue: 2 Dated: July-August 2003 Pages: 16-19
Kristi Mayo
Date Published
July 2003
4 pages
This article presents arguments for and against the reliability of the digital enhancement of photographic images as evidence in a criminal trial.
This issue came to the forefront in the case of State of Florida v. Victor Reyes. In this case, fingerprints on duct tape were photographed, and the photos were sent to the latent-fingerprint section for examination and comparison. All six prints were judged to be of "no value" due to blurring and smudging. Subsequently, the black-and-white film negatives were sent to forensic analyst David Knoerlein in the Broward County Sheriff's Office Crime Scene Unit's digital-imaging lab. Knoerlein enhanced the images of the prints by using PC Pros' More Hits software, which incorporates Adobe Photoshop software. As a result of this digital enhancement, Knoerlein returned a palm print that was matched to the known prints of the suspect, Victor Reyes. At trial the defense challenged the reliability of this process in a Frye hearing, which examined the scientific reliability of the digital enhancement of the prints. After testimony on both sides of the issue, the judge ruled that digital enhancement of images is an accepted process throughout the forensic community and that digital enhancement does not change the basic image. This article examines the process used in the digital enhancement of photos and uses quotes from experts in the field, including Knoerlein, to assess the strengths and weaknesses in the digital enhancement field. The experts emphasize the importance of training and experience of those who perform digital enhancement, and they recommend the development of guidelines and standards for the process to be applied on a statewide basis.