A fingerprinting expert for the Orange County Sherriff’s Department has been under internal investigation since October 2016, even though the State Attorney’s Office of Orange and Osceola County are just now finding out about it. An 18-year veteran fingerprinting expert, Marco Palacio, was said to be “sloppy” when performing his work and has been removed from his position.
Over the weekend, Employees at the Orange County Sherriff’s Department worked to identify cases in which Palacio was listed as a witness; by midday Monday, there were 2,640 – of which 130 are still active cases. Now, the State Attorney’s Office is sending letters to Orlando-area defense attorneys informing them of the possibility of harm to their clients from fingerprinting mistakes made by Palacio. However, the State Attorney’s Office will not be determining whether anyone was wronging convicted or jailed because of possible error in fingerprinting analysis. That burden is shifted to the defense attorneys on those cases, whether from the Public Defender’s office or privately hired.
So, what does this mean? Defense Attorneys will have to go through each case and determine whether Palacio’s opinion was key to each affected client’s case. If so, they may find themselves back in court. Although fingerprints are only one piece of evidence that may be used in a criminal case, it could prove to be detrimental to cases in which fingerprints were mainly used.
For example, if you were convicted of burglary of a dwelling and the only evidence they used to place you in the residence where the burglary occurred was fingerprint evidence. However, if they had other evidence such as eyewitness testimony, where a person identified you to secure your conviction, it would not benefit you to challenge the ruling.
If you believe the fingerprinting expert’s opinion put you or someone you know in prison, the procedure is to have the file reviewed and possibly request the case to be reopened due to the new evidence. In order to reopen your case, you will need to file a motion to set aside the verdict or plea. A judge will hold a hearing on your motion to determine if the verdict or plea should be set aside based on the new evidence. If the judge denies your request to set aside, the next step would be appeal. If the State Attorney’s office has enough evidence against you to secure your conviction without the fingerprint evidence, it is likely your conviction will be upheld.