Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

Cognitive et al.). Therefore, extraneous contexts or

Cognitive processes underlie most
of the work performed in many forensic disciplines which demand the comparative
examination of visual patterns to determine if they originate from the same
source (Dror, Champod, Langenburg, Charlton, Hunt & Rosenthal, 2011).  These comparative examinations lack objective
measures, reflecting the lack of consistency found both between and within expert’s
judgements when examining the same data at different times (Ulery, Hicklin,
Buscaglia & Roberts, 2012). This lack of reliability reflects the
subjective nature of the identification process and indicates that forensic
expert’s judgements are vulnerable to biases (Kassin, Dror, & Kukucka,
2013). Recent evidence has recognised several confirmation biases, by which
people tend to seek and interpret information in ways that support their
existing beliefs, extend to forensic experts in the legal system (Kassin et al.).

A growing number of wrongful convictions have emerged due to the
misidentification by forensic experts who have been influenced by biases
(Kassin et al.). Thus, expert’s judgements may be biased by irrelevant
(extraneous) information or influences such as expectations, contextual
information, motivation and pressure (Dror, Charlton & Peron, 2006).  How these risk factors are apparent in
Goodwin’s case is discussed throughout the expert witness report.

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The examination
of forensic evidence, such as fingerprints, is cognitively challenging as no
identical fingerprints exist. Experts assess whether the visual pattern of the
print left at the crime scene (latent print) is in sufficient agreement with a
suspect print, to determine whether they originate from the same source (Ulery,
Hicklin, Roberts & Bascaglia, 2014). Some prints may appear to look alike
but minimal differences may exist, causing them to originate from different
sources (Dror & Cole, 2010). Assessment of fingerprints relies on expert’s
skills, training and past experiences, not upon formal criteria (Ulery et al.).

 Therefore, extraneous contexts or
influences are more likely to affect perception and judgements, as the
difficulty to judge fingerprints increases and interpretation of evidence
becomes more subjective (Hall & Player, 2008).

 

Extraneous influences,
like the presence of a comparison print, can bias the perception and judgement
of latent prints. As humans have a limited cognitive capacity, attention is
guided to select and interpret information in a way that supports their
expectations (Dror et al., 2011; Fraser-Mackenzie, Dror, & Westheim, 2013).

One study showed that the presence of a matching comparison print affected
feature selection by decreasing the number of minutiae observed by experts (Dror
et al.). The presence of the matching comparison print provided contextual
information that guided visual search attention in a way that limited their
search for minutiae or changed their thresholds (Dror et al.). This study
emphasizes the importance of examining the latent print in isolation, as providing
extraneous contextual information can bias expert’s fingerprint judgements.

This is apparent in Goodwin’s case as the latent print was directly compared to
the suspect print without previous examination, in isolation. The presence of
Goodwin’s comparison print, in addition to extraneous contextual expectations,
such as the degree of suspicion towards him, could result in a decreased number
of minutiae observed. Therefore, fingerprint experts may have lowered the
threshold of agreement needed to conclude that the pair of prints originate
from the same source.

 

In addition,
beliefs and expectations about an individual can bias how information is
perceived and interpreted by forensic experts. When a belief is formed, and
integrated it can persevere, selectively guiding attention towards
incriminating evidence against a suspect, whilst disregarding potential
exonerating evidence (Ask & Granhag, 2005; Kassin et al., 2013). The
evidence available, even when ambiguous, is interpreted in a way which favours expectations
(Balcetis & Dunning, 2006). This raises potential risks in criminal cases
because forensic experts may take a piece of evidence as support towards their
expectations, failing to realize that the same evidence may be consistent with
alternative expectations (Ask & Granhag). For example, if an individual is
a suspect in a criminal case, there is an expectation regarding their
culpability, which will likely increase the belief that the suspect is guilty
(Ask & Granhag). The belief in a suspect’s guilt may put an innocent
suspect at a disadvantage, as ambiguous evidence that could support his
innocence may be interpreted in an incriminating rather than exonerating way (Ask
& Granhag). This relates to Goodwin’s case because experts were aware that
the comparison fingerprint belonged to a suspect on the MI5 watch list. The belief
that Goodwin is guilty would most likely lead forensic experts to selectively focus
their attention and interpret ambiguous minutiae as indicating that the pair of
prints were a match (i.e. prints originate from the same source) rather than a
no-match (i.e. prints originate from different sources).

 

Moreover, extraneous
contexts can also contaminate forensic expert’s objectivity, leading to
distortions in judgment and errors. The context in which evidence is presented
can influence the selection and processing of information causing experts to
form different judgments per context (Charlton, Fraser-Mackenzie & Dror,
2010).  In a study, fingerprint experts
were presented with fingerprints they had previously examined and judged as a
match (Dror et al., 2006). The same examiners were presented with the same
fingerprints within an extraneous context, that strongly suggested that
fingerprints were a no-match (Dror et al.). Within this extraneous context, 80%
of experts made different judgments, contradicting their previous conclusions
that the fingerprints were a match. An additional study showed that fingerprint
experts are susceptible to biasing information even when they are presented
with more subtle, day-to-day contexts (Dror & Charlton, 2006). Therefore,
it is not necessary for extraneous contextual information to be extreme to
influence experts in their judgements (Dror & Charlton). Contextual
information could also bias fingerprint experts in Goodwin’s case, as evidence
shows that contextual biases have caused experts to change their mind about
previously established judgments. Fingerprints in Goodwin’s case were presented
to forensic experts within a high emotional context that subjected them to pressure,
laborious examination and fatigue, which could bias experts into judging the
prints as a match.

 

Furthermore,
other contextual biases such as motivation to close the case, can influence
judgments by forensic experts. The need for closure (NFC) is a non-specific
motivation that refers to the demand to determine any conclusion to avoid the
issue being unresolved (Ask & Granhag, 2005; Charlton et al., 2010). When
motivated to close a case, the thinking processes tends to ‘freeze’ once a
tentative solution is accepted, resisting the consideration of other
alternatives (Ask & Granhag). Additionally, individuals ‘seize’ on readily
accessible information to form a judgment rather than search for additional
evidence (Ask & Granhag). The non-specific closure goal now becomes a
specific directional goal, motivating the search for information to see the
adopted conclusion confirmed (Ask & Granhag; Kassin et al., 2013). In
criminal cases the tentative solution is that a suspect is guilty.

Consequently, experts working under a high NFC become motivated to confirm that
their suspicions against a suspect are accurate (Ask & Granhag).  This is apparent in Goodwin’s case as research
shows that the NFC is heightened under time pressure, laborious processing and
fatigue (Ask & Granhag). Fingerprint experts involved in the case were
under police pressure to close the case and convict. A combination of the
motivation to convict a suspect and close the case, could influence fingerprint
experts to favour information that supports the veracity of their suspicions
against Goodwin. Therefore, the judgment in Goodwin’s case regarding the pair
of prints, was maybe reached sooner based on limited evidence.

 

Forensic confirmation biases can raise problems in
forensic domains where extraneous contextual information, context-driven
expectations and motivations create conditions for contamination and bias to
take place (Kassin et al., 2013). Fingerprint experts performing the
comparative examination of the evidence in Goodwin’s case, would be vulnerable to
the forensic confirmation biases and extraneous influences
outlined previously. Consequently, their conclusions that the prints were a
match could lead to Goodwin’s wrongful conviction. To minimise these problems, examiners
should conduct initial analysis of fingerprints in isolation, as the presence of
a suspect print can guide expert’s attention as to where minutia may be found
on the latent print (Kassin et al.). Proceeding initial analysis in isolation,
examiners would be allowed to revisit the analysis stage but documenting and
justifying their conclusions (Kassin et al.). Additionally, experts should
conduct blind testing, where they would be isolated from irrelevant information
about the case to avoid tainting their conclusions (Kassin et al.).  The above recommendations provide a more
objective examination of evidence, whilst also reducing the possibility that
confirmation bias and extraneous contextual information may cause a wrongful
conviction. 

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