Monday, February 23, 2009

If he had used the name "John Doe," no one would have suspected anything

Normally I don't post work-related stuff in my personal blog, but this one was too good to pass up. Put this in the dumb crime category.

From the Manchester, New Hampshire Police Blog:

Manchester Police Officers conducting a routine traffic stop on Hanover St. [on the afternoon of February 15, 2009] were greeted by a local man who provided the name John Brown and claimed to have a Maryland driver's license. When no record of the license was found, the man was arrested and brought to the Manchester Police Department. Despite his insistence that he was giving his true name, the officers sensed a problem.

Now I don't see why the police were jumping to conclusions. Just because a local guy claims to have a Maryland driver's license, which he doesn't have, is no reason to think that any hanky-panky is going on. After all, he gave his name, John Brown. What more do you want?

Well, for whatever reason, the police decided to investigate a little further:

They then brought the man over to the department's Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) machine and entered his fingerprints. The officers then made contact with NH State Police, who were able to provide an immediate identification of the subject. As it turns out, the officers' instincts were correct and the subject had in fact provided a false name. He was identified as:

John Hilliard DOB: 9-7-1973 of 45 Bradley St. Manchester

Through further investigation, it was found that subject Hilliard had two outstanding Bench Warrants and an active Arrest Warrant for a Parole Violation. Along with the warrants, Hillard was charged with Disobeying a Police Officer and Unsworn Falsification.


View Larger Map

As you can see rom the map, Brown's - I mean Hilliard's residence is right next to Nutts Pond.

Sounds about right.

P.S. While there have been cases over the years that have challenged the accuracy of fingerprint searches, it should be noted that tenprint searches - i.e., searches in which a person's complete set of prints is compared to a previously captured complete set of prints - are very accurate. The cases that have come under question, such as the Brandon Mayfield case, have involved searches of latent prints, or prints (or partial prints) that are recovered from crime scenes. Since the criminal is not courteous enough to leave a high quality print at the crime scene, these prints are much more difficult to search. Chris in Utah explains the difference:

While it is pretty technical, CSI isn’t really rocket science. And while fingerprint evidence isn’t nearly as reliable as DNA, it IS reliable. What your article was talking about is what is called a partial fingerprint. If you are lucky enough to find what is called an "AFIS" (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) quality fingerprint, and it matches your suspect, it is so close to the reliablilty of DNA that the difference is not worth mentioning. But we very very rarely get that quality of fingerprint. We do find partial prints. They say that they are of comparison quality, if you find a suspect, you can match it to that person, but you can’t run it through the AFIS system. Those prints are not nearly as reliable as DNA. Those prints are the ones that cause problems.

If you're interested in the subject of latent print examination, from both a forensic and a legal basis, I highly recommend Ed German's website at

Disclosure - my employer provided the Automated Fingerprint Identification System to the state of New Hampshire, but this case would have resulted in the same outcome had John Brown - I mean Hilliard lived and committed crimes in a state with an AFIS from another company, such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, or New York.

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