Fingerprints have been used in forensic identification since the end of the nineteenth century. Until recently, identifications were reported only when fingerprint examiners could find sufficient matching characteristics. As a result, many poor-quality marks that failed to meet this standard were considered useless as evidence and discarded.
Thanks to a probabilistic approach currently being applied at the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI), it is possible to specify an objective strength of evidence for even slight traces of fingers and palms.
Image: ©Netherlands Forensic Institute / Netherlands Forensic Institute
What is the probabilistic approach?
The probabilistic approach looks at the characteristics present and compares this with the presence of these characteristics in the population. For this purpose, the NFI has an anonymised reference database of fingerprints. Through this method, researchers can say what the likelihood is that the prints belong to the suspect compared to the prints belonging to someone else.
With the probabilistic method, previously discarded marks can now make a useful, quantifiable contribution to the forensic case. The results can be used in court as corroborating evidence.
For which types of cases?
The NFI is the only laboratory in the world currently applying his validated, probabilistic approach for low quality and partial finger marks. It can be used in any of the following circumstances:
- Regular case investigations: Matching a fingermark with a reference print, including a likelihood ratio.
- Cold-case investigations: Re-examining old trace material using the probabilistic approach.
- Second opinion: Re-examining traces, in the context of providing a second opinion.
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