Volume 50, Issue 2 (March 2005)
Forensic Significance of Bullet Lead Compositions
The concentrations of seven elements in projectile lead specimens received as evidence were used to assess the frequency of the occurrence of two unrelated samples having indistinguishable compositions. A set of data from 1837 samples was selected for this study from a sampling of 23,054 lead bullets and shot pellets received as evidence in the FBI Laboratory over the period 1989 through 2002. The method used for selection of samples from case submissions ensured that no two samples of the same general type from the same case were included and that no bias was introduced concerning representation of manufacturers or production sources. A total of 1,686,366 pairwise lead sample comparisons were made using the concentrations of the elements Sb, Cu, As, Ag, Bi, Sn, and Cd using a match criterion of two times the sum of the standard deviations of the paired samples. Of the 1837 samples, 1397 samples, or 76%, are distinguishable from every other sample in this study. The total number of indistinguishable sample pairs is 674, for a frequency of 1 out of every 2502 comparisons. The frequency of occurrence of matching samples decreases as the number of measured elements is increased and as the precision of the measurements improves. For bullets in which all seven elements were determined, the match frequency is 1 in 7284. Compositional comparison of bullet lead provides a reliable, highly significant point of evidentiary comparison of potential sources of crime-related bullets.