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Evaluation of the Occurrence and Associative Value of NonIdentifiable Fingermarks on Unfired Ammunition in Handguns for Evidence Supporting Proof of Criminal Possession, Use and Intent

Award Information

Award #
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2021, $330,044)

Among the most serious and pervasive criminal offenses in our society are the possession of handguns by convicted felons and their use in the commission of crime. Evidence of who loaded a recovered handgun is important for the proof of criminal possession, use, or intent. Laboratory methods, including the analysis of loaded ammunition for fingerprints and touch DNA, can provide this evidence. However, both methods have limitations. DNA analyses are time consuming, costly and often confounded by mixtures or degradation. Likewise, identifiable fingerprints are very rarely found. Non-identifiable Finger Marks (NIFMs) offer an intriguing possibility to address these limitations. Prior research has found that NIFMs occur frequently on evidence and at crime scenes and that most have high associative value. This suggests that NIFMs on handgun ammunition could provide important evidence. However, it is unknown how often, and with what level of associative value, NIFMs occur on loaded handgun ammunition. Small, highly curved metal surfaces and rapid handling decrease the likelihood that prints will be left. Does sufficient fingerprint detail for high associative value commonly remain on loaded ammunition? Does this vary by caliber and handgun type? The answers are important. If NIFMs of high associative value occur commonly on loaded ammunition, this could be a major additional source of evidence. Current practices could be routinely setting aside associative evidence that is directly relevant to the investigation and prosecution of violent crime. Alternatively, the added information could be very limited or rarely occurring, failing to justify additional laboratory, investigative or prosecutorial attention. In this project ammunition from naturally loaded handguns will be recovered and processed for latent fingerprints. NIFMs will be documented and their expected associative values will be measured using a well-defined, currently available, calibrated approach. Frequencies will be measured for the overall recovery of NIFMs, and their distribution of expected associative values, for revolvers and semi-automatic pistols covering a range of common calibers. The results of this project will answer the question of how often NIFMs occur on naturally loaded ammunition, together with measurements of their expected associative value. These findings will allow an informed assessment of the potential utility of the approach and set the priority for development and validation of methods to exploit the use of NIFMs on ammunition. The resulting NIFM dataset will be a lasting resource available for further examination as measurement and interpretive methods are refined.

Date Created: December 9, 2021