Tattooing and Its Relevancy in Criminal Investigation

The practice of tattooing on the human body has been witnessed through ancient times. The glance of tattoos on the human body can be substantially and logically connected with the different trends. There can be a number of reasons behind the practice of tattooing. During the autopsy, a forensic pathologist tries to find out records of tattoos marks on the body because they could be identified as scars or birthmarks. Law enforcement agencies use tattoos for the identification of accused or victims. The purpose of tattoos has varied from person to person, like to a marker of social rank, criminal and non-criminal group membership, particular rite of passage in tribal communities, etc. The history of decedents may also be deduced from tattoos such as antisocial, anti-police messages in ex-prisoners, mushrooms in illicit drug users, military tattoos in-service personnel, etc. During forensic evaluations, increasing population movements also mean less common tattoos.       


In modern society, tattoos have some additional meanings, such as tattoos may express affection, risk-taking, sexual preference, beauty, freedom, alliance, etc. The popularity of tattooing in the current generation can be estimated by the fact that 10% to 16% of adolescents’ age 3% to 9% of the general population in America is reported to have permanent tattoos. 

According to several studies about tattooing behavior, the relationship between tattooing and high-risk behaviors leads to criminal behaviours. 

Further tattoos are classified into criminal tattoo and the non-criminal tattoo on the basis of the content of the tattoo. Accordingly, by an increased understanding of the science and chemistry of tattooing, tattoos become a more authentic tool in forensic investigation and other matters of significance. Forensics is used as a scientific discipline in criminal proceedings, during the proceedings regulated by legal standards of admissible evidence and criminal proceedings. Criminalistics and forensics are interconnected with each other because their main objective is to solve criminal activities. Tattoos are sometimes the only evidence that investigators can bring to perpetrators of criminal cases. 

What is Tattooing?

Tattooing is the phenomena in which puncturing the skin and introducing any ink within the skin such that the ink emerges within or under the skin. The ink is a mixture of different types of colors. A tattoo is a type of a permanent design that always remains on the skin. The reason behind its permanent characteristics is that the pigment used during the process is applied deep into the dermis. Our human skins contain two types of layers, i.e., the inner layer and an outer layer; both the layers have different dimensions. Pigmented particles are embedded within the inner layer of the human skin.

Different Purposes of Tattooing 

In modern society, the tattoo has several meanings. For example, tattoos may express affection, beautes, sexual preference, freedom, risk-taking, alliance, etc. tattooing is very popular, especially in youth. Through the popularity of tattooing, the psychosocial data says tattooing behavior is quite controversial. Still, now the study is limited, but almost all of them noticed that there might be a possibility of a relationship between the tattooing and high-risk behaviors, which further leads to criminal behavior. However, the tattoos are categorized as criminal tattoos and non-criminal tattoos, and it is based on the content of the tattoo.

According to the demographic, penal test tattoos serve different motives or purposes. Boys preferred different tattoos and girls different, mostly girls tattoos related to emotional insecurity and problems in their lives regarding psychosexual or may indicate the criminal identification while on the other hand, boys’ tattoos mostly associated with less trouble but more venturesome and outgoing. Most people made tattoos to alleviate shock and eliminate boredom from their lives.

How Can the Identification of Tattoo be Helpful in Solving the Case?

Tattoos help in the identification of a victim or a suspect in the offense. Tattoos play a vital role in personal identification in forensic applications. As mentioned above, tattoos have emerged in the skin depth into the inner layer; even severe skin burns often do not destroy the tattoos. Tattoos are helped to identify the victims. And with the help of tattoo, criminal identification is also possible because tattoos contain useful information, like gang membership, religious beliefs, previous connections, etc. And, for the purpose of identifying victims and convicts, the law enforcement agencies routinely photograph and catalog tattoo patterns.

Sometimes the person who made the tattoo can also be produced as evidence. In the case of Shailendra v. state of Madhya Pradesh[1], there were three boys along with the victim, but unfortunately, the identity of the concerned petitioner could not be established by the prosecution.

But there was a man named Rajendra, who made the tattoo, and he has identified and given his statement that the petitioner was present in the room. And the prosecution relied on only one evidence, that is the statement of the person who made the tattoo.

Significance of Tattooing in Forensic Science

Tattoos indicate the skin marks by puncturing the pigmenting material forensically, and the tattoos are very helpful in assisting with body identification. They are also useful to identify the decedent’s history like military tattoos, rudimentary line tattoos, and any anti-police message through a tattoo. Tattoos are more popular now, especially in youngsters, and they are expected to be found with an increasing incidence at the time of forensic autopsy examination.

The information which is obtained from customized tattoos may be particularly useful for identification purposes.

In the pigment of the tattoo, there is a particular type of pigment named dermal remains in the skin for several years. Therefore, the type, identification, pattern, and a number of tattoos can be extremely helpful in identifying an unknown decedent.

Even if dental and DNA matches are sought during disaster victim identification, tattooing helped identify some of the badly decomposed bodies.

Relationship of Tattooing with Criminal Behaviour

There are a number of cases which that showed the relationship between tattoos and crime. The tattoo can be considered as a symptom of another set of development risk factors or crime. There is a clear relation between tattooing and criminal behavior for those in prison because less research is available on tattoo and crime outside the prison. The last 40 years’ research indicates that tattoos’ relationship includes mental disorders, personality traits, and risky behaviors.

It is possible that tattoos are not criminogenic, but they can relate to criminality as well. This suggests that the people who have psychological and personality traits due to which they are inclined to engage in criminal behavior are most likely to get the tattoo. 

A tattoo presence can indicate the risk of crime, but only when through the higher-level factors, which cause both criminal behavior and tattooing. E.g., it has been shown the risk-taking, alcohol abuse, drugs, history of childhood trauma, smoking, and personality disorder, etc. 

Legislation Governing Tattooing in India

Tattoos have become a new fashion these days. Many people have a passion for printing tattoos on our body parts. Tattoos help identify a person or dead body in cases before the court or police, and this identification can help solve the cases. There are several situations in which courts see that the identification of a person or a dead body with the help of tattoos in deciding a case. 

According to section 9 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, it states that the provision with respect to facts is necessary to explain or introduce the relevant facts. Moreover, it stated that the concept of identification of a person or a thing that establishes the relation. And that identification of a thing or person can also be in the form of a tattoo.

There was a famous case Shankar Mahto v. the State of Bihar;[2] in this particular case, the police found a dead body in the river. Further, the question was raised in the supreme court regarding identifying the dead body, which was very important. Because only on the basis of identification of the concerned body, the Supreme Court would determine how the death occurred to the deceased. And after that, police identify the body with the help of tattoos, which are present on the deceased’s arms.

In Modi’s Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology in the twenty-first edition, explains that tattoo marks may disappear if the ink does not penetrate deep into the skin. In the case mentioned above, the high court considered this point but did not believe in the deceased’s daughter’s evidence.

Tattoos are useful in general identification of the person, in case Joginder @ Danny and another v. State of NCT Delhi[3], two dead bodies were found on the crime scene. A person identified one of them on the basis of height, body, and tattoos on his hand.  

Thus, tattoos make sufficient evidence, and the crucial role plays to identify the person. This identification can reveal several unknown facts that are vital to solving a particular case.         


Since a few years ago, tattoos were studied for their historical and cultural aspects and for their medical complications which arose after getting a tattoo. But now tattoos and tattooed persons are being studied for psychoanalysis in the forensic backdrop. Mostly the permanent tattoos are associated with risk-taking behaviors like violent nature, sexual abuse, anti-social personality disorder, drugs, alcohol, etc. 

These strong links between tattoos and risk-taking behaviors the tattoos serve as useful because they are clearly visible and play a vital role by the clinical marker, which may identify people in criminal activities.  


  1. How are tattoos helpful in identifying the person during investigation?
  2. How are tattoos related to criminal behavior?
  3. What are the different purposes behind tattooing?
  4. How does forensic science signify tattooing?


  1. Miranda M.D: “Forensic Analysis of Tattoos and Tattoo links,” 2016
  2. Robert TA, Ryan TA, Tattooing and high-risk behavior in adolescents, 2002
  3. Gurmet GW. Psychodynamic implications of Tattoos

[1] 2018 Indlaw, MP 4012

[2] AIR 2002 SC 2857

[3] 2018 Indlaw DEL 4818

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