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The History and Legacy of the Latent Fingerprint Black Box Study

NCJ Number
NIJ Journal Issue: 284
Date Published
September 2022

Examiner testimony in the forensic pattern disciplines (e.g., latent fingerprints, firearms, toolmarks, and footwear) has been under heavy scrutiny in recent years. High-profile misidentifications, admissibility challenges, and blue-ribbon committee reports have heightened criticism about the scientific basis of examiner testimony in these disciplines and the forensic methods on which they are based. “Black box” studies can help the field better understand the validity and reliability of these methods. This article explores the basis of the black box design and highlights the history and legacy of one particularly influential study — a 2011 black box study by the FBI that examined the accuracy and reliability of latent fingerprint examiner decisions. This study had an immediate and lasting impact in the courts and continues to help define a path forward for future research. The article also provides an overview of how the National Institute of Justice is working to support black box and similar studies across a number of forensic disciplines.

Date Published: September 1, 2022