Volume 50, Issue 2 (March 2005)
Radiographic Human Identification Using Bones of the Hand: A Validation Study
The 1993 Supreme Court case Daubert v. Merrell-Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. underscores the importance of validating forensic science techniques. This research examines the validity of using posterior-anterior radiographs of the hand to make positive identifications of unknown human remains. Furthermore, this study was constructed to satisfy the requirements of Daubert's guidelines of scientific validity by establishing a standard methodology for hand radiograph analysis, testing the technique, and noting rates of error. This validation study required twelve participant examiners from the forensic science community, working independently, to attempt to match 10 simulated postmortem radiographs of skeletonized hands to 40 simulated antemortem radiographs of fleshed cadaver hands. The overall accuracy rate of the twelve examiners was 95%, while their collective sensitivity and specificity were 95% and 92%, respectively. However, the accuracy of each examiner was related to the amount of radiological training and experience of the observer. Six Ph.D. forensic anthropologists and four experienced forensic anthropology graduate students correctly identified all the matches. Participant examiners noted bone morphology, trabecular patterns of the proximal and middle phalanges, and distinctive radiopaque and radiolucent features as the anatomical features that aided the identification process. The hand can be an important skeletal element for radiographic positive identification because it contains 27 individual bones for comparative analysis.