AAAS Fingerprint Report

The AAAS released a lengthy Latent Fingerprint Examination Report:

The report includes 14 recommendations.  Here they are:

1. Resources should be devoted to further research on possible quantitative methods for estimating the probative value or weight of fingerprint evidence.

2. Resources should also be devoted to further research on the performance of latent fingerprint examiners under typical laboratory conditions (as discussed in Section V).

3. Research is needed on how accurately latent print examiners can assess intra-finger variability- that is, the degree to which prints may be changed due to distortion. To the extent their assessments are imperfect, researchers should endeavor to determine whether that problem arises from inadequate understanding of the existing scientific literature (in which case better training is warranted) or whether it results from deficiencies in the existing literature (in which case more research on intra-finger variability may be needed).

4. Research is also needed on ways to reduce the probability of false exclusions.

5. NIST should continue to evaluate the performance of commercial AFIS systems, particularly their performance in identifying latent prints. Open tests in which vendors are invited to participate are important for spurring competition in order to assure continuing improvement in AFIS technology. Continued testing will help law enforcement agencies choose systems best suited for their needs and provide information to the broader scientific community on how well those systems work.

6. Developing better quantitative measures of the quality of latent prints should be a research priority. Such measures will be helpful for assessing and improving AFIS as well as for evaluating the performance of human examiners.

7. Law enforcement agencies and vendors should work together, perhaps with guidance from NIST, to better assure interoperability of AFIS systems and avoid compatibility problems that may result in the loss of valuable evidence or investigative leads.

8. Context management procedures should be adopted by all forensic laboratories in order to reduce the potential for contextual bias in latent print examination. Some examples of such procedures include blinding examiners to task-irrelevant information, using case managers, and sequencing workflow among analysts (i.e., using “sequential unmasking” or “linear ACEV”). Laboratories that lack sufficient staff to administer context management procedures internally should deal with the problem through cooperative procedures with other laboratories.

9. Forensic laboratories should undertake programs of research on factors affecting the performance of latent print examiners. The research should be done by introducing known source prints into the flow of casework in a manner that makes test samples indistinguishable from casework samples.

10. Government funding agencies should facilitate research of this type by providing incentive funding to laboratories that undertake such programs and by funding the creation of research test sets- i.e., latent print specimens of known source that can be used for testing examiner performance. The research test sets should be designed with the help of practitioners, statisticians, and experts on human performance to ensure that the research is scientifically rigorous and that it addresses the issues most important to the field.

11. In research of this type, errors are to be expected and should be treated as opportunities for learning and improvement. It is not appropriate for examiners to be punished or to suffer other disadvantages if they make errors in research studies that are designed to test the limits of human performance. Nor is it appropriate for laboratories to suffer disadvantage as a consequence of engaging in such research. Accordingly, the criminal justice system should consider carefully whether the information about examiner performance in research studies should even be admissible as evidence. If the results of research studies are admitted as evidence in the courtroom, it should only be under narrow circumstances, and with careful explanation of the limitations of such data for establishing the probability of error in a given case.

12. Examiners should be careful not to make statements in reports or testimony that exaggerate the certainty of their conclusions. They can indicate that the differences between a known and latent print are such that the donor of the known print can be excluded as the source of the latent print. They can also indicate that the similarity between a latent and a known print are such that the donor of the known print cannot be excluded as the source of the latent print. But they should avoid statements that claim or imply that the pool of possible sources is limited to a single person. Terms like “match,” “identification,” “individualization” and their synonyms, imply more that the science can sustain. Because fingerprint impressions are known to be highly variable, examiners who observe a high degree of correspondence between a latent print and known print may be justified in making statements about the rarity of the shared features. For example, examiners might say something like the following:

“The latent print on Exhibit ## and the record fingerprint bearing the name XXXX have a great deal of corresponding ridge detail with no differences that would indicate they were made by different fingers. There is no way to determine how many other people might have a finger with a corresponding set of ridge features, but this degree of similarity is far greater than I have ever seen in non-matched comparisons.”

13. When latent print examiners testify, they should be prepared to discuss forthrightly the results of research studies that tested the accuracy of latent print examiners on realistic known-source samples.

14. Further research is also needed on how lay people, such as police officers, lawyers, judges, and jurors evaluate and respond to fingerprint evidence. Research of this type would be helpful in evaluating how best to present fingerprint evidence in reports and expert testimony. It would help ensure that the statements made in reports and testimony will be interpreted in the intended manner.

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