Pat Wertheim has led a storied life. Graduating from Texas A&M in 1971 with a degree in Geophysics, he opened a bakery, the perfect location for getting acquainted with local law enforcement. His career changed directions when the bakery closed, and Pat’s interest – and expertise – in prints began. He began teaching latent print comparison courses in the 1980s, visiting multiple states and countries to share his knowledge. He has testified at all levels of court in the United States as well as internationally. Currently he is employed by the Ft. Worth, TX, Police Department as a Latent Print Examiner. He is instructing an upcoming Comprehensive Latent Print Comparison course in Grand Prairie, TX, for Tri-Tech Forensics Training (October 2019) and is developing a Latent Print Certification Prep course with Eric Ray. We were pleased to interview Pat for our Tuesday Talk series and think you will enjoy learning about and from him.
Q. What made you interested in law enforcement as a career?
A. I owned a small bakery and, as the police stereotype would suggest, all the cops in our small town came by for donuts when they first came off the fryer at 4:00 AM. When my bakery went out of business, I knew literally every cop in town on a first name basis. I needed a job, and they had an opening, which they all encouraged me to apply for because I had fed them free donuts for a year. I got the job, and a couple of years later specialized in identification and fingerprints.
Q. Everyone always asks if a college degree is actually used when they graduate. Do you use yours, and if so, how?
A. My degree is in Geophysics, i.e., oil exploration. Not much use for geophysics in police work or forensics. But the advantage to putting all those years in college was learning to research and write. I do not believe I would have done the research I did, written the papers I have published, or put together the courses I have taught if I had not developed all of the discipline and research techniques I learned in college.
Q. How do you prepare to testify in court?
A. See my paper, "Qualifying as an Expert Fingerprint Witness," published in the JFI, May, 1990. It's just as pertinent today as it was the day I wrote it.
JFI’s Article Synopsis: A latent fingerprint examiner should always strive for objectivity and insure that the evidence is presented in the most effective way. Five major areas need to be addressed in expert fingerprint testimony: the witness' qualifications, an explanation of the science of fingerprints, the introduction of the latent and inked prints, the examination process, and the examiner's opinion. The foundation on which the rest of the testimony depends is the jury's acceptance of the witness' expertise. One way to show this expertise is to design a thorough, complete, and orderly set of questions. If there is a pre-trial conference with the prosecutor, then the set of questions serves as a basis for the discussion. In the absence of a pre-trial conference, the prosecutor and witness both benefit from the list of questions by avoiding surprises and yet covering all of the information that needs to be introduced.
Q. What do you think is the most important thing to remember at a crime scene?
A. This is the only crime scene you have to worry about in your career. Forget the last one, and don't even think about there being a next one. Do this one right, or let the bad guy go free and keep hurting people.
Q. What has been your favorite destination when traveling and why?
A. Being aggressive at publishing and teaching has led to travel all over the world. I have taught or consulted in twenty-five US states, as well as in Trinidad & Tobago, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, The Netherlands, Pago Pago, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Mexico, Canada, and probably a few other places that escape me now. My favorite cities, all of which I thought I would hate until I actually spent time in each, are San Francisco, New York, and Washington, DC. I love visiting those cities and spending a few extra days there when I am there on business. I also love to vacation in those places, as well as in the National Parks where I prefer to camp.
Q. What differences do you notice when testifying in foreign courts?
A. The rules are so different that each foreign testimony is a new and exciting experience. I love foreign courts and having to think on my feet to adapt. I have made some hilarious blunders, and I have been shocked at contradictions with American norms. In one lecture at Chesapeake Bay Division a few years ago, an attendee asked if I didn't think American courts were screwed up. My response was that I agree with him completely -- the American courts are the most screwed up in the world -- except for all the rest!
Q. Most interesting case so far?
A. Where to start? I think I must be the luckiest guy alive for all the great cases I have been involved in. I list these on my CV as "Significant Testimony":
Q. Any advice for new latent print examiners?
A. If you absolutely hate public speaking and refuse to force yourself to become good at it, get out of fingerprints immediately and find another career.
Q. What is the first step to take when beginning latent print comparison?
A. Do not look at the inked prints. Do a thorough Asbaughian analysis of the latent print, and document what you see and what you think it means. Learn Adobe Photoshop processing, and use layers to document your observations. Only after you have completed such a thorough analysis should you pick up the inked prints and begin the comparison.
Q. If you had chosen a different career, what would it have been and why?
A. So many great careers out there, only one lifetime to spend having fun. Maybe I would have chosen music. But as you walk through the Garden of Forking Paths, you can't back up and take a different fork. I absolutely love what I do, which is why, as I celebrate my 71st birthday, I still have no plans to retire.
Learn more about Pat's upcoming Comprehensive Latent Print Comparison course here. This course is ideal for both new and experienced latent print examiners and provides theory and hands-on exercises.
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