Forensic Facial Comparison: Issues of Admissibility in the Development of Novel Analytical Technique

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Much contemporary debate in forensic science concerns validity and admissibility of scientific evidence in court. In this paper, three current approaches to facial identification—image superimposition, photogrammetry, and morphological analysis—are considered with regard to criteria for scientific evidence in the United States, and England, and Wales. The aim of the paper is to assess the extent to which facial image comparison meets criteria of admissibility in these jurisdictions. The method used is a comparative evaluation of the methods of facial image comparison and their underlying premises against the range of admissibility criteria reported in court rulings and relevant judicial and scientific inquiries in the United States and the United Kingdom. While the techniques of facial image comparison are generally accepted within their practitioner communities, they are not tested, and their error rates are unknown. On that basis, the methods of facial image comparison would appear not to meet the anticipated standards. They are, nevertheless, admitted in court in the United States, and England, and Wales. This paper concludes that further research in science and law will be necessary to more definitively establish admissibility of facial image comparison evidence, as it will for other nascent and novel methods that are potentially influential in court proceedings.

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