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Scientific Evidence Resources: Fingerprint Identification

The information on this webpage is meant to assist judges in responding to challenges to the admissibility of fingerprint evidence. The materials describe how fingerprint examiners determine the suitability of latent fingerprints found at a crime scene and the techniques examiners use to associate such latent prints with the known fingerprints of a suspect. The materials also alert judges to problems that may arise stemming from the way that forensic experts describe their conclusions. 

For help navigating the modules, please watch this tutorial.

Modules may be accessed in any order. To get started, click on the any of the links below.

Introduction to the Course by Judge Jed S. Rakoff

Judge Rakoff introduces website materials that cover fingerprint identification and what judges should consider when considering fingerprint evidence and responding to challenges to the admissibility of fingerprint evidence and testimony.

Module 1: Overview

This video describes why fingerprinting is a valuable method of identification for criminal investigation. It also goes over the main properties of fingerprints: uniqueness, consistency over a person's lifetime, and the friction ridge edges. 

Module 2: Systems of Classification

This module covers fingerprint patterns, single fingerprint systems, computerized classification, NCIC, AFIS, IAFIS, NGI, and digitalization. 

Module 3: Examination Process

This module provides detailed description of an ACE-V method and its components: Analysis, Comparison, Evaluation, and Verification. It also describes the critical elements that should be included in the report of findings.

Module 4: Quality Assurance

This video goes over the quality assurance programs implemented by the forensic laboratories throughout the country. For more information, please refer to the Discipline-Specific Baseline Documents section at the NIST.gov website.

Module 5: Nature of Expert Testimony

This module addresses the most common questions about current practices related to fingerprint identification

  • What factors should be considered in determining the adequacy of a latent print?
  • Is there an objective standard for determining the extent of matching characteristics before concluding that the prints came from the same source?
  • What information is provided to the second verifying examiner?
  • How should the fingerprint examiner express the conclusions of the examination?

Summary of the Course by Judge Jed S. Rakoff

History

Glossary

Other Resources:

  • Fingerprint Sourcebook (National Institute of Justice)
  • Jennifer L. Mnookin et al., The Need for a Research Culture in the Forensic Sciences, UCLA L. Rev. 58: 725 (2011)
  • Expert Working Group on Human Factors in Latent Print Analysis, Latent Print Examination and Human Factors: Improving the Practice through a Systems Approach, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Institute of Standards and Technology (2012)
  • Karen Kafadar, Statistical Issues in Assessing Forensic Evidence, International Statistical Review 83(1): 111 (2015)
  • Department of the Army Defense Forensic Science Center Information Paper: Use of the term “Identification” in Latent Print Technical Reports (November 3, 2015)
  • National Research Council, Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Third Edition (National Academies Press 2011)
  • Paul C. Giannelli, The 2009 NAS forensic science report: a literature review (2012)