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Occurrence and Associative Value of Non-Identifiable Fingermarks

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This project's goal was to explore and test a theory that in large numbers of cases, fingermarks of no value for identification purposes occur and are readily available, although not used, and yet have associative value that could provide useful information.
Fingermarks that have insufficient characteristics for identification often have discernible characteristics that could form the basis for lesser degrees of correspondence or probability of occurrence within a population. Currently, those latent prints that experts judge to be insufficient for identification are not used as associative evidence. How often do such prints occur and what is their potential value for association? The answers are important. Investigators could be routinely setting aside a very important source of associative evidence, with high potential impact, in many cases; or such prints might be of very low utility, adding very little, or only very rarely contributing to cases in a meaningful way. The first step is to better understand the occurrence and range of associative value of these fingermarks. The current study collected latent fingermarks from nine state and local jurisdictions. Fingermarks included were those (1) collected in the course of investigations using existing jurisdictional procedures, (2) originally assessed by the laboratory as of no value for identification (NVID), (3) re-assessed by expert review as NVID, but with least three clear and reliable minutiae in relationship to one another, and (4) determined to show at least three auto-encoded minutiae. An expected associative value (ESLR) for each mark was measured, without reference to a putative source, based on modeling within-variability and between-variability of AFIS scores. This method incorporated (1) latest generation feature extraction, (2) a (minutiae-only) matcher, (3) a validated distortion model, and (4) NIST SD27 database calibration. Observed associative value distributions were determined for violent crimes, property crimes, and for existing objective measurements of latent print quality. A total of 750 Non Identifiable Fingermarks (NIFMs) showed values of Log10 ESLR ranging from 1.05-10.88, with a mean value of 5.56 (s.d. 2.29), corresponding to an ESLR of approximately 380,000. There are large numbers of cases where NIFMs occur that have high potential associative value as indicated by the ESLR. These NIFMs are readily available, but not used, yet have associative value that could provide useful information. These findings lead to the follow-on questions, "How useful would NIFM evidence be in actual practice?" and, "What developments or improvements are needed to maximize this contribution?" (publisher abstract modified)
Date Created: January 28, 2021