The Impact of Proficiency Testing Information and Error Aversions on the Weight Given to Fingerprint Evidence

Gregory Mitchell & Brandon L. Garrett, The Impact of Proficiency Testing Information and Error Aversions on the Weight Given to Fingerprint Evidence, 37 BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES & THE LAW 195-210 (2019).

Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2019-23

Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2019-29

24 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2019 Last revised: 3 May 2019

See all articles by Gregory Mitchell

Gregory Mitchell

University of Virginia School of Law

Brandon L. Garrett

Duke University School of Law

Date Written: April 17, 2019

Abstract

Fingerprint examiners regularly participate in tests designed to assess their proficiency. These tests provide information relevant to the weight of fingerprint evidence, but no prior research has directly examined how jurors react to proficiency testing information. Using a nationally representative sample of American adults, we examined the impact of proficiency testing information on the weight given to the opinions of fingerprint examiners by mock jurors considering a hypothetical criminal case. The fingerprint examiner’s level of performance on a proficiency test (high, medium, low, or very low), but not the type of errors committed on the test (false positive identifications, false negative identifications, or a mix of both types of errors), affected the weight that jury-eligible adults gave to an examiner’s opinion that latent fingerprints recovered from a crime scene matched the defendant’s fingerprints, which in turn affected judgments about the defendant’s guilt. Jurors who had no information about proficiency gave similar weight to the testimony as jurors exposed to highly proficient examiners, suggesting that jurors assume fingerprint examiners perform at high levels of proficiency unless informed otherwise. We also found that a plurality of Americans deems false acquittals just as aversive as false convictions and a significant minority deems false acquittals more serious. These differences in error aversions predicted differences in evidentiary assessments, suggesting that error aversions of jurors may play an important role in criminal trials.

Keywords: fingerprints, experts, proficiency testing, false conviction, false acquittal

JEL Classification: K41

Suggested Citation

Mitchell, Gregory and Garrett, Brandon L., The Impact of Proficiency Testing Information and Error Aversions on the Weight Given to Fingerprint Evidence (April 17, 2019). Gregory Mitchell & Brandon L. Garrett, The Impact of Proficiency Testing Information and Error Aversions on the Weight Given to Fingerprint Evidence, 37 BEHAVIORAL SCIENCES & THE LAW 195-210 (2019).; Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2019-23; Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2019-29. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3373740

Gregory Mitchell (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
434-243-4088 (Phone)

Brandon L. Garrett

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States
919-613-7090 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.brandonlgarrett.com/

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