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Latent Fingerprints of Insufficient Value
Can be Used as an Investigative Lead

Attias D, Hefetz I, Ben-Shimon E


The evidential and investigative value of a latent fingerprint with insufficient characteristics to identify can sometimes be an issue of debate. In this report the authors present the case of a latent fingerprint bearing details in agreement with no visible discrepancies, but with insufficient information to identify. This raises well-examined issues of decision making. In this case each expert in the laboratory who examined the latent fingerprint independently was not able to identify the suspect, who was on the list of candidates presented by the AFIS, even though there was information about a matching DNA profile. The authors suggest that in cases of latent fingerprints where there is insufficient minutiae for individualization, the fingerprints may be still be used as a searching tool and investigative aid for potential suspects. Latent fingerprints in these cases will not serve as evidence, but they can be a potentially useful tool for investigation purposes and intelligence units.


In March 2012 a group of young teenagers began a violent fight by using knives and guns. One of them was badly injured and the others escaped. Police arrived at the scene and collected evidence such as a knife, a cigarette box and several beer bottles. By using cyanoacrylate fuming three latent fingerprints were developed on the cigarette box. This case of attempted murder was placed on a fingerprint examiner's desk. Analysis of the latent fingerprints led the examiner to evaluate two latent fingerprints as having value for identification and one as insufficient. From a list of fifteen candidates displayed by the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), one person was notated as a potential source. The examiner processed comparative fingerprints and enlarged both the fingerprint image from the crime scene and the corresponding image of the AFIS record to size of 20X30 cm, but he could not reach a conclusion due to an insufficient number of details; only 6-7 minutiae with no contradiction were found, as presented in Figure 1.

The fingerprints were shown to an expert for his examination, but he as well could not reach a conclusion. Two other experts, independently, were asked to examine the print and the record. After marking several minutiae but not enough to positively identify the suspect, the three experts could not reach to a conclusion.

Given the contextual information in this case in the form of a combination of other evidence, what should the fingerprint experts do? Should they declare a "hit"?

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This article appears in the Journal of Forensic Science & Criminology, Volume, Issue 3. Copyright: © 2015 Attias D. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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The idea of The Fingerprint Sourcebook originated during a meeting at which individuals representing the fingerprint, academic, and scientific communities met in Chicago, Illinois, for a day and a half to discuss the state of fingerprint identification with a view toward the challenges raised by Daubert issues. The meeting was a joint project between the International Association for Identification and West Virginia University. One recommendation that came out of that meeting was a suggestion to create a sourcebook for friction ridge examiners, that is, a single source of researched information regarding the subject. This sourcebook would provide educational, training, and research information for the international scientific community.
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