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Latent Print Examination » Homework Questions and Answers - Elementary through University » When Will Automation Replace Manual Fingerprinting Methods? « Previous Next »

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Posted on Monday, January 19, 2004 - 10:49 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only) Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

You can find much information about fingerprint evidence at many places on the web. As for this website, I recommend starting your research by doing a key word search of this forum for related topics. Try searching for the words: minimum number. If someone told you that there was ever a minimum number (numerical standard) of twelve "points" or ten points, etc., regarding fingerprint identifications in US law, they were mistaken.

The term "absolute proof of crime (guilt) or innocence" does not apply to any single type of evidence. People tell lies or have mistaken recollections, evidence can be mishandled or misinterpreted, incompetent persons (well-meaning or charlatans) may try to render expert opinions, and in all fields of human endeavor there will occasionally be oversights. The Japanese have a saying, “Saru mo ki kara ochiru,” which literally translates as “even monkeys fall from trees.” The meaning of that phrase is that even experts sometimes make mistakes. Thus the need for standards and controls to help guarantee the most reliable evidence possible.

For fingerprint evidence, the standards and controls for daily quality control and overall program quality assurance, are defined by guidance from organizations including the following: SWGFAST, the International Association for Identification (IAI), the IAI Latent Print Certification Board, and ASCLD/LAB.

Because depositing latent fingerprints is not normally a crime unless it happens to vandalize a painting or other property, in the vast majority of cases the prosecutor would use other witnesses to establish the elements of the crime and the fingerprint identifications are merely evidence that a person touched a surface. Whether or not members of the court consider it absolute proof of guilt is up to the individual judge or juror (even when the judge instructs that jurors may take judicial notice of certain fingerprint facts). Often, defendants offer an explanation as to why their finger or palm prints were innocuously deposited in an otherwise incriminating situation.

Because it is common to process evidence and have no identifiable latent finger or palm prints, even when the evidence was known to have been touched by persons such as the police officers collecting it, the absence of a suspect’s identifiable latent finger or palm prints on evidence does not mean that they did not touch it. The suspect could have worn gloves or deposited finger or palm impressions that were not sufficient for identification. Therefore, the absence of a suspect’s prints on evidence, by itself, is not normally proof of innocence.

The term innocence in American courts does not necessarily mean that the judge or members of the jury are convinced that the defendant did not commit the crime, it means that there was insufficient overall evidence presented in the courtroom to convince them beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. Scotland has a verdict system that is more definitive than the US system. Their criminal courts have verdicts of guilty, not guilty and “not proved.” Not proved implies that there was considerable evidence of guilt, but not sufficient to convict.
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Lynn Henry
Posted on Sunday, January 18, 2004 - 09:06 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only) Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Thank you,

I am attempting a school research paper on:
How the standards for finger printing legislation were established, for example what sample, and measurement were used for the determination; even though no two persons have the same fingerprints it is not admissible as absolute for proof of crime or innocence?
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Posted on Sunday, January 18, 2004 - 05:19 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only) Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

You question could be interpreted as asking about the following:
Automated comparison and identification versus human expert decisions;


Electronic detection techniques versus dusting with powder and similar non-electronic methods;
Regarding automated comparison and identification - the answer is never and the answer is also maybe soon (for some prints).
Humans will never be completely replaced because the quantity and quality of ridge detail information always varies between two impressions being compared. Existing computer automation can make some no-human-involved (called lights-out) reliable identifications when both the questioned and the known comparisons involve multiple adjacent (known position) fingerprints and when both the questioned and known impressions meet a minimum level of ridge detail quality to permit automated feature detection, extraction and comparison.

Before reliable automated decisions involving one fingerprint against one fingerprint can begin, advancements in ridge feature detection and extraction need to be commercially introduced. After that, government agencies will begin to migrate to such technology as their existing systems require upgrading. Such systems will need to incorporate the same types of Level 3 detail used by fingerprint experts to make identification decisions. Such research has been ongoing for years (by Lockheed Martin, NSA and other entities). The image resolution required for Level 3 detail is greater than the current 500 pixel per inch (ppi) live scan images captured by most systems (although a few can already capture at 1000 ppi). Such systems will probably operate by comparing only a relatively small area of the center of the ridge detail present in the right index finger.
Regarding electronic detection techniques - the answer is never.
Every year there are improvements in technology and in user friendly equipment to apply that technology at crime scenes and in the laboratory. However, the infinite variables involved in what may compose latent print residue (what was stuck to the finger and deposited when that finger touched a surface), and the infinite variables insofar as the nature of the surface touched, mean that no recipe book or computer program can cover all possibilities. Each situation must be approached by the human expert trying to make best guesses about what is best for the situation.

It is possible (though not necessarily practical) to develop a start-to-finish specialized device that would, for example, process checks somewhat like a film processing machine at a one-hour photo shop. The device could image the checks, then apply various chemical and development procedures in sequence, and spit out the processed checks at the other end. The result could produce high-resolution images captured using various lighting and filtration, at various stages of the process. Such a device could be useful for large-scale operations where thousands of checks are routinely processed and where it is okay for the machine to ignore the potential that some fingerprints will have been deposited in contaminants that could be better developed using other techniques.
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Lynn Henry
Posted on Sunday, January 18, 2004 - 04:28 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP Print Post    Move Post (Moderator/Admin Only) Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

How long do you think before manual finger printing becomes obsolete in favor of lasar, or other techniques?

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