Fingerprints and its Relevancy in Criminal Investigations

Fingerprints have set the benchmark for personal identification in the forensic community for more than a hundred years. Fingerprints are constant in nature as they remain the same throughout the life of an individual. Fingerprints are the essential tool that is used to determine or to reveal an individual’s identity. Fingerprints are considred to be a vital part of evidence as no crime can be committed without using hands which is a prime body part of the person.

Each and every person has different fingerprints and this uniqueness of fingerprints helps to identify the criminal at a crime scene. Also, it helps the investigators to link one crime scene to another involving the same person and to track a criminal’s record of existing arrests and convictions. It provides various evidence in countless cases of crime. Every criminal is used to concealing the evidence which is within their reach. But the fingerprints cannot be removed easily and because of that, it plays a vital role in solving a crime.

In investigating crimes, we can use traditional methods and state of the art methods. Physical evidence at a crime scene like fingerprint plays a vital role in solving crimes. İt is helpful to find out the accused person but not in the case of rape. It is promptly used by police or other authorities to identify individuals who want to cover up their identity or to identify deceased people. A criminal while committing a crime may touch many objects and bears out when the investigation is conducted. There is no other evidence other than the fingerprints at a crime scene which lasts long without disappearing.

Introduction

Fingerprints are one form of biometric, which is used to identify them. Two people never have the same fingerprint, not even identical twins. The fingerprints never change, even after we get old, until and unless the basil layer is destroyed or plastic surgery has been done. There are three different categories of fingerprints: arches, whorls, and loops. The small details of fingerprints from these impressions can be identified and make them unique.

Historical background of Fingerprint

Fingerprints are found in ancient Babylonian, Chinese, Persian, Roman civilization. Those fingerprints are considered to be the oldest friction ridge skin impressions. The dumping prints which were found in ancient civilization were not specific and clear as the prints were made accidentally or unintentionally. In the Chinese dynasty, fingerprints, as well as hand and footprints, were collected and used as forensic evidence.

 In 1684, Dr. Nehemiah Grew described friction ridge skin firstly in detail. In 1877, Sir William Harschel in India started to use fingerprints on contracts and deeds and for registering prisoners. Two Indian fingerprints experts developed a fingerprint classification system, known as the Henry classification system. Sir Francis Galton further published details on fingerprint analysis and identification. Nowadays, it is used everywhere to acknowledge the individual in any convention and questions on the premises of the Court. In 2019, the Unique Identification Authority of India is the world’s largest fingerprint system which is using fingerprint, face, biometric records. It is also known as Aadhaar which provides the individual a unique identification.

Importance of Fingerprint

The judiciary and people took some time to have faith in fingerprints as scientific aid, but the same is now acknowledged throughout the world. The fingerprint as evidence plays a vital role through the following features:

·         Unique

The fingers have ridges that have complex patterns, different from one person to another. The fingerprint which is found vary from one another. Therefore, they are different and unique for each individual. The same impression of fingerprints has never occurred and is not even expected.

·         Permanent

Fingerprints are of a permanent nature, and they remain the same throughout the life of an individual. The ridges which appear on fingers is formed before birth, i.e., during the third, fourth month of pregnancy. Even after death, the fingerprint remains the same until the first layer of finger i.e., epidermal layer is destroyed. But it is also impossible to remove the epidermal layer by any surgery and also it is not possible to destroy the ridges by fire or cutting, etc. Fingerprints are the unique identity of an individual.

·         Universal

Fingerprints are universal in nature as all the individual carry this identification everywhere. A criminal while doing any act uses his hands and leaves the mark on the scenes of occurrence or any object. Therefore, there are chances of having fingerprints in all the crime scenes. If the criminal uses gloves while committing the act then in that situation identification of fingerprints is difficult.

·         Inimitable

Many people have attempted to imitate or copy fingerprints but successful forgery of fingerprints has not been reported so far. The investigating officer and experts can identify such forgery. The advancement of science may bring out the forgery to perfection but still complete success is distinctly difficult.

·         Classifiable

Everyone has a different pattern of ridges which make it easier to classify or differentiate one from another. Records of millions and millions of people can be identified whenever needed.

Procedure of collecting fingerprints from crime scenes

The analysing and collection of fingerprints should be done systematically. The fingerprints which are found at the scene of the crime are divided into three major parts as latent, patent, and impressed fingerprints. The quality of the fingerprint can be judged by using the magnifying glass. Latent fingerprints are the ones that are microscopic to the naked eyes so the powders are the best medium to develop the latent fingerprints. It is made up of sweat and oil formed on the skin’s surface. There are many powders that are used to collect latent fingerprints.

Patent fingerprints are the ones that are visible to the naked eyes and formed by any contact of blood, grease, or dirt. Impressed fingerprints are the one which are visible to the the naked eyes and formed by pressing fingers on soap, wax or any other liquid.

Legal relevancy of fingerprints

·         Identification of Prisoner’s Act, 1920

The main aim of this Act is to provide legal authority for collecting fingerprints, footprints, photographs of a person accused, or suspected of committing an offence. Before the validation of this Act, the taking of fingerprints of criminals was void of legal sanction. But now it is valid under Section 3.

Section 4 talks about the taking of fingerprints of a non-convicted person. Under Section 5, the Magistrate can command any person to allow his fingerprints to be taken for the purpose of carrying out the investigation.

·         Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Section 293 states that the reports of fingerprints submitted by the Director of Forensic Bureau can be taken as evidence. This Section is aimed at saving time and to avoid needless examination. But if certain intuition arises from the report, then, that person can be summoned by the court who has submitted the report.

·         Indian Evidence Act, 1872

The uniqueness of fingerprints was given statutory recognition and held to be valid evidence by legislators. Under Section 45, the term finger impression is not included but, in the Amendment, Act of 1899 the phrase finger impression was added. Section 73 states that the court may give an order to any person to give his fingerprints if it is required for a comparison of the questioned fingerprints by the court.

The evidence which are collected by the forensic investigators claimed the involvement of the person in a concerned place. When the person is ready to give his fingerprints without any objection, then the protection under Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution is not prohibited and then it can be taken into consideration.

Case Laws

·         Pathumma v. Veerasha[1]

It was held by the Kerala High Court that no two persons can have the same fingerprint. And if no difference is found then it can be concluded that it was made by the same person.

·         James v. State of Kerala[2]

In this case, some fingerprints, foot impressions and photograph has been taken from the crime scene. But due to blurred and the dirt on photographs, the Kerala High Court mentioned that it depends on the court whether it is taken into consideration as evidence or not.

·         State v. Karugope[3]

In Patna High Court, fingerprints are taken into consideration as a piece of evidence for the conviction of the accused.

Conclusion

Fingerprints help in the establishment of identification of the person within the minimum time and efforts and enables the investigation to be speedy. The admissibility of fingerprints makes it a reliable piece of evidence. While considering fingerprints as evidence, the courts have to carefully conclude the expert’s opinions to state the final decision. Although the court may use its own legal mind in relation to the issues, the opinions of experts can guide them to decide the issues.

Questions

  • Why are fingerprints important in criminal investigation?
  • How long do fingerprints last on a crime scene?
  • Can two people have the same fingerprints?
  • How can fingerprints be collected from the crime scene?
  • Why fingerprints are considered as the “Aadhaar” of a person?

References


  • [1] 1988(1) K. L. T. 798.
  • [2] 1994(1) K. L. J. 871.
  • [3] AIR 1954 Pat. 131

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