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Fingerprint examiners use the ACE-V (analysis, comparison, evaluation and verification) method to reach a determination on each print.
Analysis involves assessing a print to determine if it can be used for a comparison. If the print is not suitable for comparison because of inadequate quality or quantity of features, the examination ends and the print is reported as not suitable.
If the print is suitable, the analysis indicates the features to be used in the comparison and their tolerances (the amount of variation that will be accepted). The analysis may also uncover physical features such as recurves, deltas, creases and scars that help indicate where to begin the comparison.
Comparisons are performed by an analyst who views the known and suspect prints side-by-side. The analyst compares minutiae characteristics and locations to determine if they match. Known prints are often collected from persons of interest, victims, others present at the scene or through a search of one or more fingerprint databases such as the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). IAFIS is the largest fingerprint database in the world and, as of June 2012, held more than 72 million print records from criminals, military personnel, government employees and other civilian employees.
Evaluation is where the examiner ultimately decides if the prints are from the same source (identification or individualization), different sources (exclusion) or is inconclusive. Inconclusive results may be due to poor quality samples, lack of comparable areas, or insufficient number of corresponding or dissimilar features to be certain.
Verification is when another examiner independently analyzes, compares and evaluates the prints to either support or refute the conclusions of the original examiner. The examiner may also verify the suitability of determinations made in the analysis phase.