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Monday, April 12, 2021

Avoiding Bias in Crime Scene Impression Identification

Even the most qualified fingerprint examiners, handwriting experts, and footwear identification specialists make honest mistakes. Particularly in fields of subjective identification, bias has a way of creeping into the analysis. A series of studies and experiments involving fingerprint examiners in England by a pair of cognitive psychologists has shown that "biasing contextual information" can lead to mistaken conclusions. For example, when fingerprint examiners were told a suspect had confessed, these experts made identifications in cases where, without this knowledge, they had previously declared the same set of prints a mismatch. These studies, conducted at the University of Southampton, suggest that latent fingerprint work and, by implication, handwriting identification and footwear impression comparison are more subjective than previously believed. In light of these findings, the less these forensic experts know about the crime in question, the better. Within the fingerprint field, erecting a wall between the examiner and the criminal investigation is much more difficult when the expert is employed directly by the law enforcement agency.

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