Cases may be jeopardized after Orange County fingerprint analyst accused of mishandling evidence

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — An Orange County Sheriff's Office fingerprint analyst is off the job and under investigation after being accused of mishandling evidence, clerical errors, failure to identify prints and mislabeling of print cards.

Because of the accusations, thousands of criminal cases are under the microscope.

Defense attorneys will have to review more than 2,600 cases with ties to the analyst.

The Sheriff's Office said an internal request prompted the investigation.

Marco Palacio has been moved to administrative duties as the investigation continues.

Checking all of these cases will be difficult and tedious task for officials.

Several attorneys in Orange County said they have received letters warning their cases could be impacted.

Some of the cases are old and it's been years since the defendants were here in the courthouse.

Public defender Robert Wesley said his office likely represented defendants in three-quarters of the fingerprint cases in question.

“There will be some cases where this may have made a difference, but we can't really know how many,” said Wesley.

The state attorney's office is notifying defense attorneys that their clients may have been impacted by the performance of Palacio, an 18-year veteran of the job.

“We're going to do our best to make sure there was no injustice due to this problem,” said Wesley.

Fingerprints can place a suspect at a scene, but attorneys said the prints alone usually aren't enough for a conviction.

“You may get a good fingerprint, but then you're going to have to show that it was associated with the crime,” said WFTV legal analyst Bill Sheaffer.

Because of other available evidence, Sheaffer said the prints were likely critical to just a small percentage of cases.

“I don't see this issue opening up Pandora's Box. It's going to have a ripple effect, not a tidal wave effect,” said Sheaffer.

Palacio touched at least 130 cases that are currently working through the court.

Those prosecutors are likely looking to rely on other evidence. Wesley said he doesn't have the resources to check on every prior case, some of which are now in doubt because the analyst's prints are all over them.

The state attorney's office told me no one has challenged any of the prior cases so far.

As for Palacio, Sheaffer said he likely will not face any criminal charges, but could lose his job and credibility.