Fingerprint Identification

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fingerprint identification

Identifying a criminal defendant is the first element a prosecuting attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in any criminal case.  This can be done through numerous ways.  Some defendants are identified by eyewitness testimony and DNA evidence.  Another common way to identify a criminal defendant is through the use of fingerprint identification..

Dactylography or Dactyloscopy is the study of fingerprints.  Fingerprints, like most things of nature, have unique patterns.  In fact, fingerprints are so unique that not even identical twins share the same fingerprint patterns.  Fingerprints also do not change over time, with the exception of enlargement due to physical growth.  However, certain medical conditions and damages, such as severe burns, can distort or permanently damage one’s fingerprints.

Identification of fingerprints began in 1924 in the Federal Bureau of investigation under the identification division.  During this time, fingerprint identification was generally kept on cards.  Using fingerprint cards does have the possibility, like most investigative tools, for human error.

In identifying fingerprints, experts use patterns such as archs, loops, and whorls to make an initial identification.  Arches are a pattern type in which ridges enter on one side and exit on the other hand.  It is said that people with arches on their fingerprints make up five (5%) percent of the world’s population.  Loops are a pattern type in which ridges enter and exit on the same side.  It is said that people with loops in their fingerprints make up sixty to sixty-five (60%-65%) percent of the world’s population.  Whorls are a pattern type that consists of circles, more than one loop, or a mixture of patterns.  It is said that people with whorls in their fingerprints make up thirty to thirty-five (30% to 35%) percent of the world’s population.  In addition to the basic pattern types, there are also pattern characteristics that experts use in the identification of fingerprints.  These pattern characteristics are referred to as minutiae and include bridges, bifurcations, dots, lakes, hooks, or spurs, just to name a few.  In identifying fingerprints, experts use the basic patterns, in addition to minutiae; these different pattern characteristics are generally numbered at sixty-four (64).

Now despite popular belief, one does not have to be arrested in order to have their fingerprints inputted into the system.  For example, if you have ever served in the military, your fingerprints are in the system.  Government jobs that require fingerprinting as a condition of employment, also enter your information into the system.  On average, roughly around 7,000 fingerprints are added to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s system every day.  With advancements in technology, fingerprint identification has become faster and easier.  Today, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation house over 280 million fingerprints, collectively.  These databases include both fingerprints collected by those arrested in addition to federal government employees and military servicemembers.  India, however, as one of, if not the largest biometric database in the world.

Now although fingerprint testing has evolved to more electronic means, the Supreme Court of Georgia has stated that fingerprint evidence, even one admitted prior to the electronic collection of fingerprints, is admissible hearsay under the business rule objection.[1]  Further, the Supreme Court of Georgia hast stated that a police officer can serve as an expert witness in testifying about fingerprint identification.[2]

Now, as stated above, it is believed that no two persons have exactly the same arrangement of ridge patterns, especially considering that fingerprints do not change.  But this does not mean that fingerprints cannot be challenged.  Having an attorney versed in relevant scientific evidence, case law, and statutes, like the ones at Bixon Law, can assist you in challenging fingerprint evidence.  Allow us to assist you in your criminal case.  As our moto is “aggressive criminal defense,” our attorneys will ensure that no stone is left unturned in preparing for your defense.


[1] Hurston v. State, 285 Ga. 294, 296-97.

[2] McCoy v. State, 237 Ga. 118, 119.