In recent years there have been several discussions amongst forensic science policy makers, forensic practitioners, legal practitioners, and academia regarding the most appropriate means of expressing forensic conclusions, especially pertaining to source associations in the pattern evidence domains, to ensure proper articulation of the weight of the evidence to the fact finder. Central to these discussions is the use of the words "identification" or "individualization" to report positive associations between an evidence sample and a known source–often used to express the opinion that the two samples "were made by the same source". Proponents argue that the terms are appropriate provided that they are properly defined and caveated to be an expression of an opinion. Critics argue that the terms are inappropriate because they imply a weight of evidence that has not yet been empirically demonstrated and, given the historical use of the terms, simply avoiding the added phrase "to the exclusion of all others" is insufficient. An underlying question at the heart of this discussion, then, is how lay persons interpret such testimony. After polling 300 lay persons, we found that approximately 71% of potential jurors may be expected to interpret expert testimony containing the word "identification" (or "identified") to imply a single source attribution "to the exclusion of all others". The intent of this study is to provide preliminary data to inform the forensic science community on how the term "identification" may be interpreted by laypersons when used in the context of expert testimony and technical reports.
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