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Fingerprints and pattern evidence

Overview

What is fingerprint analysis? Investigators have been using the results of forensic fingerprint analysis to solve crimes for more than a century. Fingerprint analysis generally involves comparing fingerprints found at a crime scene — called latent fingerprints — with fingerprints from a known individual and assessing how similar they are. A trained fingerprint examiner makes that assessment by comparing details including the shapes that the ridge lines form and where the lines end or split. Latent prints are often partial, distorted or smudged, so the first step is to determine if there is sufficient detail in the latent print to make a comparison. If not, no further analysis is done. If there is enough detail in the latent print, the examiner will carefully compare the features of the two prints and determine, based on training and experience, if the prints are likely to have come from the same person or from different people.

What we do

Some studies have shown that different examiners occasionally come to different conclusions when assessing the same evidence. This is not unexpected, as any human endeavor necessarily involves some chance of error. However, those chances can be reduced. NIST is working to develop computer algorithms that would automate some parts of the fingerprint analysis process, with the goal of reducing the opportunities for error and making the process more reliable and efficient.

The Research

Projects & Programs

NIST Ballistics Toolmark Database

The NIST Ballistics Toolmark Research Database is an open-access research database of bullet and cartridge case toolmark data. This database will: foster the

Fingerprint Chemistry

The goal of this focus area is to leverage the wealth of chemical information present in fingerprint deposits for novel forensic applications. This includes

Additional Resources Links

News

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Forensic Science is in My DNA

Working in law enforcement is as tough as it is rewarding. I got my start in 1968 as a beat cop in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My initial years on the force eventually led me to a 50-year career in forensic science. Back in my policing days, pretty much all we had was a uniform, a badge, a nightstick, handcuffs, a sidearm, a pair of comfortable shoes, perhaps a vehicle, a desire to protect and serve and
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A Smart Use for Doping: Implanted Atoms Create Unique Electrical IDs That Distinguish Bona Fide Devices From Forgeries

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NIST Launches an Updated Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science

A mobile device scans the fingerprints of a hand held close to the screen.

Spotlight: The Challenges of Contactless Fingerprinting

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