AFTE Theory of Identification

In 1985, the Criteria for Identification Committee formalized the AFTE

Theory of Identification as it Relates to Toolmarks. The theory articulates

three principles that provide the conceptual basis for comparing toolmarks

for the purpose of identifying them as having a common source.

For the purpose of this module, consider any reference to the word “tool”

in this section as a reference to the machined surfaces of the action and

mechanism of a firearm. Any reference to the term “toolmark” refers to
striated or impressed marks on a fired cartridge case or unfired cartridge

cycled through the action of a firearm.

The three principles of the AFTE Theory of Identification as it Relates to


1. The theory of identification as it pertains to toolmarks enables
opinions of common origin to be made when the unique surface
contours of two toolmarks are in sufficient agreement

2. This sufficient agreement is related to the significant
duplication of random toolmarks as evidenced by the
correspondence of a pattern or combination of patterns of
surface contours. Significance is determined by the
comparative examination of two or more sets of surface
contour patterns comprised of individual peaks, ridges, and
furrows. Specifically, the relative height or depth, width,
curvature and spatial relationship of the individual peaks,
ridges and furrows within one set of surface contours are
defined and compared to the corresponding features in the
second set of contours. Agreement is significant when it
exceeds the best agreement demonstrated between two

skills. toolmarks known to have been produced by different tools and is consistent with agreement demonstrated by toolmarks known to have been produced by the same tool. . the interpretation is subjective in nature. Ideally. The third principle of the AFTE Theory of Identification indicates that. although founded on the scientific method and reproducibility of results. Ultimately. Sufficient Agreement and Best Known Nonmatch The second of the three principles of the AFTE Theory of Identification indicates that the degree of correspondence which must be exceeded to constitute sufficient agreement for an identification is the best known nonmatch (by each individual examiner) to have been produced by different tools.  recognizing corresponding patterns within impressed toolmarks.  determining the best known non-match in their personal experience. The statement that “sufficient agreement” exists between two toolmarks means that the likelihood another tool could have made the mark is so remote as to be considered a practical impossibility. the examiner would gain experience in this during their initial training period rather than when they begin to perform actual examinations on their own. sufficient agreement is the product of the examiner’s personal training. 3. The current interpretation of individualization/identification is subjective in nature. It is the policy of most laboratories that a second qualified examiner verify the findings of the first examiner. and experience in  recognizing corresponding patterns of matching striations. founded on scientific principles and based on the examiner’s training and experience.

A failure to meet or maintain these standards will justifiably cast doubt upon an individual's fitness for this type of work. nor that they are all-inclusive. and no set of guidelines or rules will precisely fit every occasion. view them with an open mind. Instead. The true scientist will make adequate examination of their material. CODE OF ETHICS (AFTE) This code is intended to act as a guide to the ethical conduct of individual workers in the field of firearms and toolmark examination. . Tests are designed to disclose facts and all interpretations shall be consistent with that purpose and will not be knowingly distorted. they represent general standards. This is not to say that they need not be critical of untried or unproved methods. incompatible with secrecy of method. It is not to be construed that these principles are immutable laws. atypical or unreliable. OPINIONS AND CONCLUSIONS A.  training and experience in comparing striated and impressed toolmarks. Scientific analyses will not be conducted by “secret processes”. E. The progressive worker will keep abreast of new developments in scientific methods and. It is to be realized that each individual case may vary. applying those tests essential to proof. utilize unwarranted and superfluous tests in an attempt to give apparent greater weight to their results. B. A truly scientific method requires that no generally discredited or unreliable procedure be utilized in the analysis. Where appropriate to the correct interpretation of a test. A proper scientific method demands reliability of validity in the materials analyzed. Valid conclusions call for the application of generally accepted techniques. in all cases. B. nor will conclusions in case work be based upon such tests and experiments that will not be revealed to the profession. C. merely for the sake of bolstering their conclusions. It is incumbent on each examiner to rely on their training and experience to identify and to be able to articulate the process used to determine sufficient agreement and best known nonmatch. but they will recognize superior methods if and when they are introduced. experimental controls shall be made. D. SCIENTIFIC METHOD A. Conclusions will not be drawn from materials which themselves appear unrepresentative. II. They will not. just as does the evidence with which the examiner is concerned. which each worker should strive to meet. The modern scientific mind is an open one.

Where test results are inconclusive or indefinite. it is appropriate that the expert witness utilize any of a variety of demonstrative materials and methods. knowingly or intentionally assist the contestants in a case through such tactics as will implant a false impression. being interested only in ascertaining facts. III. any conclusions drawn shall be fully explained. they take care to leave no false impressions in the minds of the jurors or the court. D. The examiner will not by implication. The ethical expert does not take advantage of their privilege to express opinions by offering opinions on matters within their field of qualification to which they have not given formal consideration. By this or other means. while they have an opinion derived of study and judgment within their field. Such methods and materials shall not. The Examiner has a moral obligation to see to it that the court understands the evidence as it exists and to present it in an impartial manner. F. It is both wise and proper that the examiner be aware of the various possible implications of their opinions and conclusions and be prepared to weigh them. misleading. if called upon to do so. In any case. The examiner will answer all questions before them in a clear. They will not take advantage of the general privilege to assign greater significance to an interpretation than is justified by the available data. circuitous or ambiguous language that may be misconstrued or misunderstood. E. C. C. the opinion may lack the certainty of other opinions they might offer. F. It is not the object of the examiner’s appearance in court to present only the evidence that supports the view of the side which employs him/her. straightforward manner and refuse to extend themselves beyond their field of competence. I. however. Regardless of legal definitions. By way of conveying information to the court. the examiner will not choose that interpretation favoring the side by which they are employed merely as a means of justifying their employment. and shall not be intentionally altered or distorted with a view to mislead the court or jury. B. COURT PRESENTATION A. the expert will not hesitate to indicate that. however. . E. the examiner will realize that there are degrees of certainty represented under the single term of "expert opinion". however. They are immune to suggestion. The expert will avoid unclear. G. Where circumstances indicate it to be proper. H. Any and all photographic displays shall be made according to acceptable practices. Scientific method demands that the individual be aware of their own limitations and refuse to extend themselves beyond them. pressures and coercions inconsistent with the evidence at hand. G. D. It is both proper and advisable that the examiner seeks knowledge in new fields. be hasty to apply such knowledge before they have had adequate training and experience. The examiner is unbiased and refuses to be swayed by evidence or matters outside the specific materials under consideration. they will not. Where test results are capable of being interpreted to the advantage of either side of a case. they will clearly distinguish between that which may be regarded as scientifically demonstrated fact and that which is speculative. be unduly sensational.

No services shall be rendered on a contingency fee basis. not to thwart justice. J. Indeed. it shall be mandatory where it appears that a serious infraction or repeated violations have been committed and where other appropriate corrective measures (if pursued) have failed. It shall be ethical and proper for an examiner to bring to the attention of the Association a violation of any of these ethical principles. It shall be regarded as ethical for one examiner to re-examine evidence material previously submitted to or examined by another. Justice should be the guiding principle. Generally. Where an opinion requires qualification or explanation. IV. as to the significance of the evidence or to the test results. It shall be ethical to report to the appropriate authority any attempts to prejudice or conceal exculpatory evidence. This service must be performed in good faith and not maliciously. This Code may be used by any examiner in justification of their conduct in a given case with the understanding that they will have the full support of this Association. In all respects. the examiner will avoid the use of terms and opinions. D. it is not only proper but incumbent upon the witness to offer such qualifications. Its purpose is to prevent incompetent testimony. . G. the principle of “attorney client” relationship is considered to apply to work of a physical evidence consultant except in a situation where a miscarriage of justice might occur. It shall be ethical for an examiner to serve an attorney in an advisory capacity regarding the interrogation of another expert who may be presenting testimony. which will be assigned greater weight than are due them. work product and trial strategy may require consent of counsel. C. K. Where a difference of opinion arises. however. F. B. However. it is in the interest of the profession that every effort be made by both examiners to resolve their conflict before the case goes to trial. The expert shall not exaggerate or embellish their qualifications when testifying. GENERAL PRACTICE OF FIREARM AND TOOLMARK EXAMINATION A. E.