The goal of all physical evidence examinations is to achieve individual identification, that is, to show that a fingerprint came from a particular individual or that a bullet was fired in a certain weapon. Being able to accomplish this requires an organized thought process and the execution of a logical series of tests. The scientific method is used in both of these processes.
The scientific method involves a series of steps that ultimately lead to a conclusion. The steps associated with the scientific method are as follows:
1. Define the problem.
2. Make observations.
3. Form a hypothesis (theory).
4. Carry out tests.
5. Refine the hypothesis as necessary.
This process of critical thinking is applied to each item of physical evidence in an effort to achieve individual identification. When the scientific method is applied to the identification of bullets, cartridge cases, and other ammunition components the process is known as firearms identification.
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