More than Zero: Accounting for Error in Latent Fingerprint Identification
94 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2007
The recent exposure of an erroneous latent print identification by the FBI that led to the false arrest of Oregon attorney Brandon Mayfield has punctured the myth of the "infallibility" of fingerprint identification and generated renewed interest in the "error rate" of fingerprint identification. This article undertakes a comprehensive review of what is known about the potential error rate of latent print identification. The article first presents a compilation of all known exposed cases of fingerprint misattributions. Although only twenty such cases have been documented, an analysis of these cases suggests that these cases likely represent only a small portion of the true set of latent print misattributions. Then, the article compiles and analyzes proficiency test data that sheds some light on the potential error rate of fingerprint identification. The second half of the article is devoted to the fingerprint profession's and courts' rhetorical accounts of the potential error rate of latent print identification. This section analyzes efforts to minimize, dismiss, or otherwise account for fingerprint error. Fingerprint examiners make claims of error-free practice that belie the reality of error. The article concludes that we must confront, analyze, and seek to understand error if we want to reduce it.
Keywords: fingerprint, error
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