Fingerprint error rate on close non-matches

Jonathan J. Koehler*, Shiquan Liu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The accuracy of fingerprint identifications is critically important to the administration of criminal justice. Accuracy is challenging when two prints from different sources have many common features and few dissimilar features. Such print pairs, known as close non-matches (CNMs), are increasingly likely to arise as ever-growing databases are searched with greater frequency. In this study, 125 fingerprint agencies completed a mandatory proficiency test that included two pairs of CNMs. The false-positive error rates on the two CNMs were 15.9% (17 out of 107, 95% C.I.: 9.5%, 24.2%) and 28.1% (27 out of 96, 95% C.I.: 19.4%, 38.2%), respectively. These CNM error rates are (a) inconsistent with the popular notion that fingerprint evidence is nearly infallible, and (b) larger than error rates reported in leading fingerprint studies. We conclude that, when the risk of CNMs is high, the probative value of a reported fingerprint identification may be severely diminished due to an elevated false-positive error risk. We call for additional CNM research, including a replication and expansion of the present study using a representative selection of CNMs from database searches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-134
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Forensic Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • close non-match
  • error rate
  • false-positive
  • fingerprint
  • fingerprint accuracy
  • fingerprint identification
  • proficiency test

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Genetics


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