The Shifting Landscape of Latent Print Testimony: An American Perspective
Friction ridge comparison testimony in the United States has long been characterized by speaking in absolutes: fingerprints are unique, the Analysis, Comparison, Evaluation, and Verification methodology has a zero-error rate, and the testimony presented by the expert should be regarded as an incontrovertible fact. Once the National Research Council released their watershed report in 2009, questioning and criticizing these clear overstatements of the strength of the evidence, many commentators and professional organizations recommended that the friction ridge community rethink the way their evidence was presented in reports and in court. Yet, change has been slow to come. While some agencies have begun a shift in the way they present their findings, many others still testify the same way they always have. This paper presents the historical context of where American friction ridge testimony has been, lays out the arguments for why it needs to change, describes some recent efforts to improve, and highlights some likely directions for the future of friction ridge reporting and testimony in the United States.