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For four years, Miguel Espinoza’s Mexican seafood restaurant in Medford, Ore., was going smoothly. But then he tried to renew his liquor license in August 2002. Espinoza found himself being asked to explain to the Medford City Council why a man who had been sentenced recently to serve 24 months for criminally negligent homicide should be allowed to operate a bar at his establishment. There was only one problem: Espinoza had nothing to do with the incident. The record keepers at the Josephine County Circuit Court had mixed up Espinoza’s identification with another man, who was the one actually convicted after he killed a person while driving drunk in March 2002. The Medford Police Department cleared up the error two weeks later, but Espinoza’s attorney, Charles Carreon, alleges that a newspaper report from the city council meeting ruined Espinoza’s once-profitable business. Carreon, of the Online Media Law firm in Ashland, Ore., recently filed class actions against the state of Oregon and in California against Identix Inc., the company that makes Livescan digital fingerprinting. The company’s main office is in Minnetonka, Minn., but it has offices in California. Benson v. Identix, No. 0407-07135 (Santa Clara Co., Calif., Super. Ct.). Josephine County and several other police districts around the country use Livescan, which records and stores digital fingerprints — including the ones that caused Espinoza problems — that can be matched by the police more quickly than by retrieving ink prints. Livescan is distributed by Digital Biometrics Inc., a subsidiary of Identix. More than 7,000 Livescan systems have been sold, mainly to law enforcement agencies across the country and internationally, according to an Identix spokesman. Carreon, a former Jackson County, Ore., deputy district attorney, alleges in the suit that there have been known problems with the Livescan technology since as early as 1999, but that police and other state officials have done nothing to fix it. The suit alleges two problems. First, it claims there is a flaw in the design of the Livescan technology that allows two individuals to be given the same identification number. Second, the suit asserts that the Oregon State Police Department has issued the same number to different people when taking and storing prints. Lt. Glenn Chastain of the state police department said that the department is the central repository for fingerprints, but also said he was not sure how many agencies use Livescan for fingerprinting. Carreon represents two individuals, including Espinoza, who he claims were victims of a Livescan mix-up. His other client, Roger Benson, was awarded $100,000 in 2002 after he spent 43 days in a California prison while awaiting trial. Benson v. State of Oregon, No. 0108-07955 (Multnomah Co., Ore., Cir. Ct.). Originally the jury awarded Benson $300,000, but the award was reduced to $100,000 due to damage limits for state agencies. Police in Siskiyou County, Calif., thought Benson had been convicted of three crimes, and they charged him with being a felon in possession of a gun. But the felonies were actually committed by another individual, and later police dismissed the charges. Carreon believes there have been other mix-ups, and he hopes the class action will get more people to come forward. Oregon Assistant Attorney General Tim Wood, whose office is representing the police department, said that his office is in the process of reviewing the suit and determining how to proceed. Identix General Counsel Mark Molina declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing a company policy of not commenting on pending litigation. A company quarterly report, however, said that the “issuance of duplicate fingerprints was not the result of any design, manufacturing or product defect or malfunction … The company intends to vigorously defend this lawsuit.”

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