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The Viability of Virtual Peer Review and Microscopic Verification versus Traditional On-site Review

NCJ Number
Rick Wyant
Date Published
93 pages

This report presents a study aimed at evaluating current laboratory protocols of on-site peer review and verification by determining whether remote collaboration using digital comparison microscopes is an accurate, efficient, and cost-effective method to accomplish peer review and verification of forensic firearm/toolmark (FT) identification casework and IBIS/NIBIN leads.


The research study presented in this document was developed in order to inform the forensic community of best practices through the evaluation of existing peer review/verification protocols for the firearm/toolmark (FT) identification discipline. It aimed to compare  and correlate traditional comparison microscopy to modern instruments that incorporate a digital component to examinations. The author reports three limitations to the study: the inter-lab aspect of virtual peer review processes was not explored; the machines were not placed in remote locations to evaluate efficacy of real-time comparisons over a computer network; and the practicability of remote NIBIN hit confirmation for laboratories without access to this system through the IBIS/NIBIN interface capabilities of digital comparison microscopes. The three goals of the study were: to compare efficacy/accuracy of peer review/verification completed using live digital microscopic comparison images to traditional microscope comparisons; to compare the efficiency of peer review/verification completed using live digital microscopic comparison images to traditional microscope comparisons; and to compare efficacy of remote evaluation of IBIS/NIBIN images from digital comparison microscopes to traditional comparison microscopes. Results suggested that the Vision-X microscopes could remotely provide adequate microscopic information for which to draw conclusions related to microscopic verification and peer review of ballistic evidence, and the author reports a vast majority of the conclusions made during the virtual review were later confirmed by traditional, in-person comparisons. The author also notes that bullet and toolmark examinations often required manipulation by the primary examiner to assist the verifier in visualization of identifying marks required for adequate examination.