Objective analysis of toolmarks in forensics

Date
2013-01-01
Authors
Grieve, Taylor
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Scott Chumbley
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Materials Science and Engineering
Abstract

Since the 1993 court case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. the subjective nature of toolmark comparison has been questioned by attorneys and law enforcement agencies alike. This has led to an increased drive to establish objective comparison techniques with known error rates, much like those that DNA analysis is able to provide. This push has created research in which the 3-D surface profile of two different marks are characterized and the marks' cross-sections are run through a comparative statistical algorithm to acquire a value that is intended to indicate the likelihood of a match between the marks. The aforementioned algorithm has been developed and extensively tested through comparison of evenly striated marks made by screwdrivers. However, this algorithm has yet to be applied to quasi-striated marks such as those made by the shear edge of slip-joint pliers. The results of this algorithm's application to the surface of copper wire will be presented.

Objective mark comparison also extends to comparison of toolmarks made by firearms. In an effort to create objective comparisons, microstamping of firing pins and breech faces has been introduced. This process involves placing unique alphanumeric identifiers surrounded by a radial code on the surface of firing pins, which transfer to the cartridge's primer upon firing. Three different guns equipped with microstamped firing pins were used to fire 3000 cartridges. These cartridges are evaluated based on the clarity of their alphanumeric transfers and the clarity of the radial code surrounding the alphanumerics.

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