Fingerprints — An Important Piece of Evidence

Fingerprints have been studied for uniqueness, identification and criminal importance for more than one hundred years.  The significance of fingerprints and the criminal justice system can’t be undervalued; they can implicate the guilty by linking a criminal to the victim and the scene of the crime and exonerate the innocent.  Through technology and expertly trained fingerprint examiners, the fingerprint can be the single most important piece of evidence for solving a crime.   

Fingerprints became an important identification of criminals in a criminal investigation when a book written by Sir Francis Galton from England titled “Fingerprints” was published in 1892.  It has been discovered that the earliest known fingerprints were used by the Chinese in the 700s for identification purposes to establish identity of documents on clay tablets. 

In 1924 by the act of congress, the Identification Division of the F.B.I. was established and consolidated fingerprint files.  By 1946, the F.B.I. had processed over 100 million fingerprint cards.  These cards were maintained manually and by 1971 had doubled.  It was not until the mid 1980s that the Automated Fingerprint Identification System was established (AFIS).

Fingerprints play an extremely important role in crime scene investigations. 


Fingerprints are considered to be an infallible means of identification.  No two fingerprints are exactly alike.  However, since fingerprints are extremely valuable, they are also an extremely fragile pieces of evidence.  In crime scene evidence recovery, it is essential that fingerprints be located, processed, and recovered first.

In this last century, a high profile case such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy benefited from this procedure; a palm print was discovered underneath the stock of the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle that belonged to Lee Harvey Oswald.  In another high profile case, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the crime lab made an important discovery of latent fingerprints on the rifle found to belong to James Earl Ray.

In 1684, Marcello Malighi, a professor of anatomy from the University of Bologna, took note of the ridges, spirals, and loops in the fingerprints.  It was not until 1904 did the United States began the use of fingerprints as identification in the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas.  It seems amazing that a hundred years passed until fingerprints began to be used to identify criminals.

What exactly are fingerprints? 

Every human being has friction ridges located on the hands and feet.  These friction ridges have a specific detail on the gripping surfaces with an enhanced quantity of nerves and pores.  These tiny raised peaks and valleys are located on the tips of the fingers along with sweat pores.  This gripping skin has been described as similar to the tread of an automobile tire.  The friction skin has a structured dermis layer with the friction layer of skin that includes the sweat pores.  There are extra pores that remain moist and help the skin to remain soft and pliable, which presents better frictional characteristics of the print.

For more information about fingerprints, check out these books:


Contrast: An Investigator’s Basic Reference Guide to Fingerprint Identification Concepts

By Craig A. Coppock

Friction Ridge Skin: Comparison and Identification of Fingerprints

By James F. Cowger

Techniques of Crime Scene Investigation

By Barry A.J. Fisher

Jennifer Chase
Award Winning Author & Criminologist

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Comment by Jennifer Chase on June 3, 2011 at 1:44am
No problem -- keep bugging me :)
Comment by Benjamin Sobieck on June 2, 2011 at 2:36am

I'll keep bugging you about this until you do it, but I'd pay for an e-book that contains all of these posts in one spot. I bet every crime author on the planet would buy that e-book.


But until then, I'll keep reading in awe of this rich information.

Comment by Jennifer Chase on June 2, 2011 at 1:58am
Thank you so much!  There's a lot of interesting things out there in the "crime" area that help to add depth to crime fiction.  Plus, I find ALL this stuff so interesting and I like to share :)
Comment by J. F. Juzwik on June 2, 2011 at 1:49am
Besides being way beyond fascinating, your posts are so informative.  I second Benjamin's comment.  The information you provide IS what we crime writers need to know.  I thank you too, Jennifer.
Comment by Benjamin Sobieck on June 1, 2011 at 1:49pm
Need to know stuff for us crime writers. Thank you, Jennifer.

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