Certainty and Uncertainty in Reporting Fingerprint Evidence

Kadane, J. B., & Koehler, J. J. (2018). Certainty and uncertainty in reporting fingerprint evidence. Daedalus, 147, 119-134.

25 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2019

See all articles by Joseph (Jay) B. Kadane

Joseph (Jay) B. Kadane

Carngeie Mellon University; Carnegie Mellon University - David A. Tepper School of Business

Jonathan J. Koehler

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law

Date Written: June 27, 2018

Abstract

Everyone knows that fingerprint evidence can be extremely incriminating. What is less clear is whether the way that a fingerprint examiner describes that evidence influences the weight lay jurors assign to it. This essay describes an experiment testing how lay people respond to different presentations of fingerprint evidence in a hypothetical criminal case. We find that people attach more weight to the evidence when the fingerprint examiner indicates that he believes or knows that the defendant is the source of the print. When the examiner offers a weaker, but more scientifically justifiable, conclusion, the evidence is given less weight. However, people do not value the evidence any more or less when the examiner uses very strong language to indicate that the defendant is the source of the print versus weaker source identification language. We also find that cross-examination designed to highlight weaknesses in the fingerprint evidence has no impact regardless of which type of conclusion the examiner offers. We conclude by considering implications for ongoing reform efforts.

Keywords: fingerprints, experiment, source opinions, mock jurors

Suggested Citation

Kadane, Joseph (Jay) B. and Koehler, Jonathan J., Certainty and Uncertainty in Reporting Fingerprint Evidence (June 27, 2018). Kadane, J. B., & Koehler, J. J. (2018). Certainty and uncertainty in reporting fingerprint evidence. Daedalus, 147, 119-134.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3353234 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3353234

Joseph (Jay) B. Kadane

Carngeie Mellon University ( email )

Department of Statistics
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

Carnegie Mellon University - David A. Tepper School of Business ( email )

5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

Jonathan J. Koehler (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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