Thanks to Hollywood’s fascination with everything related to law enforcement and the legal system, we have all watched at least one fiction or non-fiction police drama where the case is solved because of the one partial fingerprint found at the scene of the crime. Is that really how it works though? Can a fingerprint lead to your arrest and even conviction for a crime? Moreover, where can fingerprints be left and how are they lifted and examined? If you are currently facing criminal charges in the State of Nebraska, and fingerprint evidence is involved in your case, you probably want to know the answer to these questions. The relevance and impact of fingerprint evidence in your specific case can only be evaluated by an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney after reviewing your case. In the meantime, an Omaha defense attorney explains some basics with regard to fingerprint evidence and its use in a criminal prosecution.
What’s the Big Deal with Fingerprints?
First, it makes sense to discuss why fingerprint evidence is even sought by law enforcement officers when investigating a crime. The answer to that question is simple. Fingerprint evidence is sought after because fingerprints are frequently left behind at the scene of a crime, they are relatively easy to find, and fairly easy to lift and examine in most cases. Most import, however, is what fingerprints can tell law enforcement. Your fingerprints are unique. Although it is not absolutely impossible for two people to have the same exact fingerprints, the odds of that happening are astronomical. Therefore, if the police find a fingerprint at the scene of a crime and it matches a suspect’s fingerprint, it is compelling evidence that the suspect was at least present at the scene.
Types of Fingerprints
Fingerprints are divided into three types:
- Plastics – prints that are three dimensional, such as a print left on a wax or butter.
- Patent – visible prints that are left, typically when the suspect’s finger gets liquid on it and then transfers that liquid print onto another surface. For example, the suspect might get blood on his/her hands and then touch a surface. The blood will transfer a fingerprint onto the surface.
- Latent – invisible prints left when the body’s natural oils transfer a print onto a surface. Sweat on a suspect’s hands, for example, could cause the suspect to leave a latent print on a surface he/she touched.
Collecting and Preserving Fingerprint Evidence
In order for fingerprints to be useful as evidence in a criminal case, they must be collected and preserved. The manner in which they are collected depends on the type of fingerprint and the surface on which it is located.
Collecting patent prints is fairly easy. These prints can typically be photographed using a high resolution camera. The image can then be blown up sufficiently to identify the unique markings within the fingerprint.
Latent prints are more difficult to collect and preserve. Traditionally, these prints were collected using the method most often used by Hollywood – dusting with powder. A surface is dusted using specialized powder to check for prints. If there is a print on the surface, the powder will adhere to the oil from the fingerprint. That powder essentially highlights the print which can then be photographed just like patent prints. The print is then “lifted” using old-fashioned clear tape and placed on a card for preservation.
Newer methods of collecting latent fingerprints include:
- Alternate light source (ALS) — laser or LED devices that emit a particular wavelength, or spectrum, of light. For example, investigators may use a blue light with an orange filter to find latent prints on desks, chairs, computer equipment or other objects at the scene of a break-in.
- Cyanoacrylate — “superglue” processing, or fuming, of a surface before applying powders or dye stains. The vapors (fumes) will adhere to any prints present on the object allowing them to be viewed with oblique ambient light or a white light source.
- Chemical developers – typically used for porous surfaces such as paper. The chemicals react with specific components of latent print residue, such as amino acids and inorganic salts. Ninhydrin, for example, causes prints to turn a purple color, which makes them easily photographed.
Consulting with an Omaha Defense Attorney
If your fingerprints were found at the scene of a crime, making you a suspect or a defendant, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Omaha defense attorney right away to make sure your rights are protected and/or to get started on your defense
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska it is certainly in your best interest to consult with an experienced Omaha defense attorney right away to discuss what defenses might be available to you. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070.