The Champion

November/December 2008 , Page 44 

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Challenging Firearms and Toolmark Identification -- Part Two

By Adina Schwartz

Firearms and Toolmark Identifications Cannot Be Made to a Reasonable Degree of Scientific Certainty

A report by the National Research Council Committee to Assess the Feasibility, Accuracy, and Technical Capability of a National Ballistics Database (the NRC Report) explicitly recognized that firm statistical foundations do not exist for firearms and toolmark examination. “Conclusions drawn in firearms identification should not be made to imply the presence of a firm statistical basis when none has been demonstrated.”1 According to the committee, the tendency of examiners “to cast their assessments in bold absolutes, commonly asserting that a match can be made ‘to the exclusion of all other firearms in the world’ … cloak[s] an inherently subjective assessment of a match with an extreme probability statement that has no firm grounding and unrealistically implies an error rate of zero.”2 

Although its criticism of “extreme probability statements” is welcome, the com

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