Abstract

http://ssrn.com/abstract=2312971
 


 



How Jurors Evaluate Fingerprint Evidence: The Relative Importance of Match Language, Method Information, and Error Acknowledgment


Brandon L. Garrett


University of Virginia School of Law

Gregory Mitchell


University of Virginia School of Law

September 2013

Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 10, Issue 3, pp. 484-511, 2013

Abstract:     
Fingerprint examiners use a variety of terms and phrases to describe a finding of a match between a defendant's fingerprints and fingerprint impressions collected from a crime scene. Despite the importance and ubiquity of fingerprint evidence in criminal cases, no prior studies examine how jurors evaluate such evidence. We present two studies examining the impact of different match phrases, method descriptions, and statements about possible examiner error on the weight given to fingerprint identification evidence by laypersons. In both studies, the particular phrase chosen to describe the finding of a match - whether simple and imprecise or detailed and claiming near certainty - had little effect on participants' judgments about the guilt of a suspect. In contrast, the examiner admitting the possibility of error reduced the weight given to the fingerprint evidence - regardless of whether the admission was made during direct or cross‐examination. In addition, the examiner providing information about the method used to make fingerprint comparisons reduced the impact of admitting the possibility of error. We found few individual differences in reactions to the fingerprint evidence across a wide range of participant variables, and we found widespread agreement regarding the uniqueness of fingerprints and the reliability of fingerprint identifications. Our results suggest that information about the reliability of fingerprint identifications will have a greater impact on lay interpretations of fingerprint evidence than the specific qualitative or quantitative terms chosen to describe a fingerprint match.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 28

Accepted Paper Series


Date posted: August 20, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Garrett, Brandon L. and Mitchell, Gregory, How Jurors Evaluate Fingerprint Evidence: The Relative Importance of Match Language, Method Information, and Error Acknowledgment (September 2013). Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 10, Issue 3, pp. 484-511, 2013. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2312971 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jels.12017

Contact Information

Brandon L. Garrett (Contact Author)
University of Virginia School of Law ( email )
580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Gregory Mitchell
University of Virginia School of Law ( email )
580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
434-243-4088 (Phone)

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