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Do evidence submission forms expose latent print examiners to task-irrelevant information?

Journal: Forensic Science International
Published: 2019
Primary Author: Brett O. Gardner
Secondary Authors: Sharon Kelley, Daniel C. Murrie, Kellyn N.Blaisdell

Emerging research documents the ways in which task-irrelevant contextual information may influence the opinions and decisions that forensic analysts reach regarding evidence (e.g., Dror and Cole, 2010; National Academy of Sciences, 2009; President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2016). Consequently, authorities have called for forensic analysts to rely solely on task-relevant information—and to actively avoid task-irrelevant information—when conducting analyses (National Commission on Forensic Science, 2015). In this study, we examined 97 evidence submission forms, used by 148 accredited crime laboratories across the United States, to determine what types of information laboratories solicit when performing latent print analyses. Results indicate that many laboratories request information with no direct relevance to the specific task of latent print comparison. More concerning, approximately one in six forms (16.5%) request information that appears to have a high potential for bias without any discernible relevance to latent print comparison. Solicitations for task-irrelevant information may carry meaningful consequences and current findings inform strategies to reduce the potential for cognitive bias.

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