Fingerprints are a vital investigative tool, as the technology used to match suspects with fingerprints found at a crime scene can help investigators better understand what happened – and, potentially, who was involved. Despite the clear benefits of finding a suspect’s fingerprints at the scene of a crime, fingerprints themselves have come under scrutiny.
In the past, prosecutors found few weapons more powerful than the fingerprint. But today, the reliability of those fingerprints at a crime scene can be challenged. Defense attorneys have access to evidence that can show the fallibility of fingerprinting technology, and even challenge the presence of fingerprints in the first place. After all, your fingerprints at a crime scene do not automatically make you guilty of a crime, and there is no way to prove when and how the fingerprints got there.
Using Fingerprints for Plea Deals
Prosecutors are notorious for using fingerprint evidence in order to negotiate a plea deal with a suspect. They will intimidate suspects into thinking that fingerprints are incriminating enough for a guilty conviction from a judge or jury.
The Truth About Fingerprints in Criminal Investigations
When law enforcement testifies that fingerprints matching the suspects were found at the crime scene, they are not testifying that there was an identical match. Instead, the term “match” is used widely to describe a fingerprint with similar characteristics to another.
Fingerprints contain 75 to 175 unique characteristics. When an examiner is able to identify eight to 12 common points during a fingerprint comparison, they legally can state that they have a “match” and testify to such in court. Fingerprint analysis has been around since the early 1920s, but even then, Scotland Yard required a minimum of sixteen matching points. Today, there is no scientific basis for determining if 12 or 16 are more reliable, as there is limited research on the protocol itself.
Prosecutors would have a suspect believe that fingerprint evidence is reliable and enough to convict someone, but without context or additional evidence, the reality is that a fingerprint may not convict a person at all.
Fingerprints and Lacking Evidence
A crime scene is investigated to find evidence of a suspect’s presence. Nevertheless, when a suspect’s fingerprints are found at the scene, but there is no other evidence that they have committed the crime, those fingerprints become less powerful. A person could have visited the crime scene weeks before the actual crime and this is even easier to argue when the crime scene is a public place – such as a restaurant or store.
Having the Right Defense is Imperative
If your fingerprints were found at a crime scene, it is important that you seek legal counsel. An attorney can assess the true value of those fingerprints, along with other evidence present, to determine if prosecution has a valid case. Contact the Law Office of Timothy Armstrong, P.A. today regarding your criminal case. Schedule a consultation by calling 904-356-8618 or filling out our online contact form.