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The Utility of Expanded Conclusion Scales During Latent Print Examinations

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences
Date Published

The aim of the present study was to determine the consequences of a shift to expanded conclusion scales in latent print comparisons.


During fingerprint comparisons, a latent print examiner visually compares two impressions to determine whether or not they originated from the same source. They consider the amount of perceived detail in agreement or disagreement and accumulate evidence toward same source and different sources propositions. This evidence is then mapped to one of three conclusions: Identification, Inconclusive, or Exclusion. A limitation of this 3-conclusion scale is it can lose information when translating the conclusion from the internal strength-of-evidence value to one of only three possible conclusions. An alternative scale with two additional values, support for different sources and support for common sources, has been proposed by the Friction Ridge Subcommittee of OSAC. The expanded scale could lead to more investigative leads but could produce complex trade-offs in both correct and erroneous identifications. In the current study, latent print examiners each completed 60 comparisons using one of the two scales, and the resulting data were modeled using signal detection theory to measure whether the expanded scale changed the threshold for an “Identification” conclusion. When using the expanded scale, examiners became more risk-averse when making “Identification” decisions and tended to transition both the weaker Identification and stronger Inconclusive responses to the “Support for Common Source” statement. The results demonstrate the utility of an expanded conclusion scale and also provide guidance for the adoption of these or similar scales. (Publisher Abstract)