Determining the confidence of fingerprint examiners at various steps in the ACE-V method
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Fingerprints are a very important aspect of criminal investigations and besides DNA, are one of the most sought-after pieces of evidence. The ACE-V (Analysis Compare, Evaluate, Verify) method is the most common procedure used by fingerprint examiners in analyzing a fingerprint found at a crime scene (unknown donor) and comparing it with a fingerprint in a database (known/exemplar) (Stevenage & Pitfield, 2016, p. 146). A problem with this procedure is there is not a set list of steps to follow that is consistent among all fingerprint examiners; there is not a clear definition of what each step entails. There are very few procedures outlined and standardized for fingerprint examiners to determine if two fingerprints are a match (Langeburg, Champod, & Wertheim, 2009). Another problem with this lack of detail and standardization is that each fingerprint examiner, even those from the same agencies, find different “points” of comparison to match the fingerprints. The participants of this study were fingerprint examiners from state crime laboratories, as well as police and sheriff departments, from throughout the United States. Examiners completed an online survey asking questions related to their determination if a fingerprint is sufficient enough to move on to the next steps involved in ACE-V examination, and rating their level of confidence in those decisions. Various data analyses found there is not a significant statistical relationship between the total years of experience and the level of confidence reported by the fingerprint examiner, the number of comparison points determined, or the final decision reached by the fingerprint examiners. However, analyses revealed there is tremendous variability in the ratings of confidence and final opinions within the sampled examiners. These findings demonstrate that the fingerprint examination process (ACE-V method) used by fingerprint examiners is not adequate enough to provide consistent findings among all fingerprint examiners, requiring the need for more research on fingerprint examination and the ACE-V method for its continued use within the criminal justice system.