ABOUT FINGERPRINTS

The photograph depicts an enlarged photograph of the tip of a finger. As indicated, the original image was enlarged 50x. The few ridges appearing in the photograph form a circular pattern and are corrugated in appearance. Along the top of these ridges are randomly placed sweat pores. In this photograph, the mushroom like blobs are beads of sweat and are being exuded by the gland located in the skin. When this sweat comes into contact with a surface, a pattern of those ridges is potentially left behind as a ‘fingerprint’. It is then the role of the fingerprint/crime scene examiner to ‘develop’ the fingerprint to assist in visualising the print. The method of developing is determined by the surface type, porous or non-porous. It is often the case also that the ridges may be contaminated with oils from the body or other material such as blood or grease which may act as a transfer medium.

FINGERPRINTS IN USE

Often the first thoughts when hearing the word ‘fingerprints’ is their use in criminal investigation however there are other uses for this proven form of personal identification.

The first practical use of fingerprints was to support the criminal record system. When a person appearing before court is found guilty, the presiding magistrate/judge will seek the person’s criminal record. Traditional methods of identifying persons to the court in the late 1890’s were proving difficult and unreliable. A number of committees were formed to investigate more reliable systems. The culmination of work from the early pioneers of fingerprints was examined and a fingerprint identification ‘system’ was developed. Until this time, many people had been wrongly identified by other means while others weren’t being recognised or identified at all. 

While the criminal investigation use soon came to be, other applications for the use of fingerprints were also discussed such as the identification of deceased persons. Further uses today relate to personal identification for entry into venues, workspaces, and even to open one’s smartphone.

Also, many jurisdictions in Australia require fingerprints to be taken of persons for various employment roles such as those employed in the security industry, and applicants for the police force.

CASE STUDY

In 1990 two small envelopes were intercepted at the Clyde International Mail Exchange and found to contain a small quantity of cannabis leaf. The items were submitted for an examination for the presence of fingerprints. An examination was conducted with a small area of a ‘print’ being observed on one of the stamps affixed to the envelope. The investigating police provided the name of a person of interest and requested that the developed partial print be compared to the fingerprints of that person. An analysis of the partial print was followed by a comparison with the known fingerprints of the person of interest. The result of this comparison resulted in the determination that the prints being compared had been made by one and the same person. That is, the person of interest was the donor of the partial print on the stamp. The following photographs represent the two prints in question with several of the features found to be in agreement marked up. The red arrows indicate traditional features (or characteristics) while the small yellow arrows indicate several sweat pores being in relative position and which were drawn upon in supporting the ‘identification’ of the two prints. This article featured in The Journal of Forensic Identification and the Fingerprint Whorld (journal) and was highly commended in the category, ‘Best Technical Article’ in the 1999 National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) Best Paper Awards.

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