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2021 Quantification of the weight of fingerprint evidence using a ROC-based Approximate Bayesian Computation algorithm for model selection
Jessie Hendricks, Cedric Neumann, Christopher P. Saunders
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Electron. J. Statist. 15(1): 1228-1262 (2021). DOI: 10.1214/21-EJS1813


For more than a century, fingerprints have been used with considerable success to identify criminals or verify the identity of individuals. The categorical conclusion scheme used by fingerprint examiners, and more generally the inference process followed by forensic scientists, have been heavily criticised in the scientific and legal literature. Instead, scholars have proposed to characterise the weight of forensic evidence using the Bayes factor as the key element of the inference process. In forensic science, quantifying the magnitude of support is equally as important as determining which model is supported. Unfortunately, the complexity of fingerprint patterns render likelihood-based inference impossible. In this paper, we use an Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC) model selection algorithm to quantify the weight of fingerprint evidence. We supplement the original ABC model selection algorithm using a Receiver Operating Characteristic curve to mitigate its known shortcomings with respect to the choice of a suitable threshold and the curse of dimensionality. In a sense, we offer an alternative to other methods that have tried to address the same issues. Our method is straightforward to implement, computationally efficient, and visually intuitive for lay individuals (i.e., jurors). We apply our method to quantify the weight of fingerprint evidence in forensic science, but we note that it can be applied to any other forensic pattern evidence.

Funding Statement

This project was supported in part by Award No. 2014-IJ-CX-K088 awarded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, and in part by the National Science Foundation under Grant DMS-1127914 to the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI). The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice or the National Science Foundation.


We would like to thank Dr. Danica Ommen for her help in the initial implementation of ABC for forensic evidence. We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers whose comments and suggestions helped to improve and clarify our manuscript.


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Jessie Hendricks. Cedric Neumann. Christopher P. Saunders. "Quantification of the weight of fingerprint evidence using a ROC-based Approximate Bayesian Computation algorithm for model selection." Electron. J. Statist. 15 (1) 1228 - 1262, 2021.


Received: 1 July 2019; Published: 2021
First available in Project Euclid: 16 March 2021

Digital Object Identifier: 10.1214/21-EJS1813

Keywords: Approximate Bayesian Computation , Bayes factor , Forensic science , receiver operating characteristic , weight of evidence


Vol.15 • No. 1 • 2021
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