In a rare and controversial legal move, a Miami-Dade judge has curtailed fingerprint evidence in a criminal case drawing alarm from prosecutors who vow to appeal.
Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch said in an order that he wont allow a police fingerprint examiner to testify that he identified a conclusive match for a Miami man accused of two burglaries.
We have become accustomed to, and accepting of, fingerprint testimony, Hirsch wrote in a 17-page order issued. Once upon a time, our forebears were accustomed to, and accepting of, the notion that the world was flat. That did not make it so.
U.S. courts have long allowed experts to testify to jurors that the accused persons fingerprint is unique to only him or her.
Hirschs ruling does not bar prosecutors from introducing to a jury the visual fingerprint evidence against Radames Borrego, 41, who is accused of burglarizing a car and Miami Beach electronics store.
A prosecution expert can talk about similarities of Borregos fingerprint to matches found at the crime scenes. But Hirsch granted a defense request to bar the expert from saying that Borrego is the one and only source of the print or from using the words match or identification.
With a penchant for quoting Shakespeare in extensive orders, Hirsch has never been hesitant to wade into controversial legal waters.
Earlier this month, Hirsch from the bench criticized relatives of a murder victim after they publicly lashed out at him in a Spanish-language television interview.
They showed gross disrespect for this court and the process, Hirsch told prosecutors in allowing bond to a man accused of murder.
The State Attorneys Office now is asking Hirsch to recuse himself from the case.
In September, the Third District Court of Appeals ruled that Hirsch did not have jurisdiction when he filled in for a fellow judge, then reversed that judges decision to keep a man accused of violating a restraining order behind bars.
And last year, when a Tampa federal judge ruled that Floridas drug law was unconstitutional, Hirsch was the only local state judge to follow suit. He tossed out more than two dozen cases but Miamis appeals court later reversed Hirschs decision.
Not all of Hirschs high-profile rulings have been for the defense.
Last year, he refused to grant self-defense immunity to a Florida International University student who fatally stabbed a football player during an on-campus brawl. Hirsch this month recused himself from the case after the defendant wrote a letter critical of him to the circuits criminal administrative judge.
Hirsch, the former president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and a law school professor, is well-known in South Floridas criminal justice community. He authored a book on Florida criminal trial procedure.
In 2004, he also wrote a novel: The Shadow of Justice, which chronicles the adventures of a fictional Miami judge named Clark Addison. Hirsch was elected to the circuit bench, unopposed, in May 2010.
In his order on the Borrego case, Hirsch analyzes the origin of fingerprint science, from Shakespeares The Second Part of King Henry to Mark Twains Life on the Mississippi to the British pioneering of fingerprint evidence in 19th-century colonial India.