Fingerprint Evidence - How Useful Is It

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Fingerprint evidence is used in investigations for criminal cases often, and the findings are frequently used to determine if someone is connected to the crime or was naturally part of the scene. However, knowing if the fingerprints are helpful to the case usually requires additional evidence to corroborate or disprove a linking.

While DNA is often used to prove the innocence or guilt of accused individuals, fingerprints are part of the investigation to connect and associate who was at the scene of a crime. One of the theories, until computer systems have proven this incorrect, is that no two fingerprints are the same. However, the points used on the fingertips may match another person in the world. Though the entire print may not be an exact match, the software utilized to discover the potential perpetrator could reveal more than one person that corresponds to the points. While initially helpful, these complications may reduce fingerprints to less than useful if others are associated with the incident that could not have been there.

For the prints to have use in a case, there are two basic principles that evidence rest upon for the incident. These are the friction ridge patterns that are associated with the swirled skin on the fingertips which donít change over the course of a personís life and the match found in the law enforcement databases from previous arrests or other fingerprinting. Some of these individuals are hired by the government and have a file while others are arrested at some point. If there is a missing child involved, he or she could have had his or her prints done before the incident by the parent. These are particularly helpful in missing childrenís cases.

The Distinguishing Features

When using fingerprints to help with a case in finding and revealing who is responsible for criminal behavior, the ridges and patterns are usually what are most important. These areas do not change no matter how old the individual becomes. While software recognition may identify more than one with similar features, no two persons have been marked with the exact patters to include identical brothers and sisters. The complications often arise when only partial matches are possible with a piece of fingerprint instead of the entire mark. This is when fingerprints are only slightly helpful in a case.

The distinguishing features of the fingerprints are recorded by those that work with the government and anyone that has been arrested and printed previously. A database or collection of these prints is available to law enforcement agencies in finding someone and matching the prints for evidence in criminal proceedings. With these used for missing cases, an increase in positive outcomes is possible. When parents and authorities are pressing for fingerprinting at earlier ages, the potential for solving more types of crimes is greater. This may prevent worse actions from taking place.

The Limitations of Fingerprints

One of the most limiting factors of fingerprints is that if they are not within a database or a collection, the culprit of a crime may not be discovered through this evidence even if he or she has left behind a print. Additionally, these may not connect the person to the criminal behavior specifically if he or she was already at the crime scene or is a usual party to the room, building, house or area. Even if he or she was the perpetrator, the fingerprints are not helpful when his or her presence is a known factor. This is demonstrated when the house has four occupants, and these persons are disqualified for printing because they are usually within the domicile.

If the person is wearing gloves, has cleaned an area or taken measures to hide his or her fingerprints, then they are not usually found. Then, this piece of evidence is not a factor and cannot help the criminal case. Another drawback is that there is no way to discern how old the fingerprint is. This then could lead an investigation into a dead-end or a circle when the person was in the room ten years ago. However, overall fingerprints and the technology to discover these are immensely helpful when all other factors are available to discover a criminal involved in the scene.

Legal Aspects of Fingerprints

Once evidence has been gathered, it is possible to proceed in a criminal case. These prints are one of several pieces of proof for possible conviction, and lawyers are needed to protect the rights of those involved.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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