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The Use of Fingerprints in a Criminal Case

The Use of Fingerprints in a Criminal Case The use of fingerprints in criminal cases is a long-standing forensic method that can play a crucial role in solving crimes and prosecuting the accused. For defendants, understanding how fingerprint evidence works and its implications for your case becomes vital for mounting an effective defense.

How Fingerprints Are Used in Criminal Cases

How Fingerprints Are Used in Criminal Cases Fingerprints have long been considered one of the most reliable forms of evidence in criminal matters. This is because every person has a unique pattern and ridge. Even identical twins have different fingerprints, which makes the analysis of this evidence essential for the police to pursue suspects and investigate crimes.

Linking a Suspect to a Crime Scene

Fingerprints are considered among the most reliable evidence for placing a suspect at a crime scene. After a crime takes place, forensic teams search the scene for latent fingerprints – those invisible to the naked eye and that might have been left by the perpetrator. Finding a suspect’s latent prints at a crime scene is thought to provide a concrete and direct link to the scene that can be difficult to refute.

National Databases and AFIS

The Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) is a national database that revolutionizes law enforcement crime scene work by enabling the police to match collected prints against known individuals or to other prints that are in the database related to unsolved crimes.

When a print is input into AFIS, the program’s sophisticated algorithms compare it to millions of other pre-stored fingerprints to obtain a match and determine who the print belongs to.

What would have taken days or weeks to manually compare can be done in a matter of hours, helping the crime scene investigators quickly understand various aspects of the investigation.

Defending Against Fingerprint Evidence in a Criminal Case

Defending against fingerprint evidence can be difficult, especially when the criminal trial is in front of a jury. Jurors often see fingerprint evidence as foolproof, but the reality is that there are nuances in both collection and analysis that can be contested in a criminal prosecution.

Understanding these intricacies provides room to question the perceived infallibility of this type of evidence. Here’s how a defense lawyer can help you fight back against fingerprint evidence:

Offer Other Explanations

An important defense tactic is to produce alternative narratives. That is, the attorneys need to provide good reasons that explain why the defendant’s fingerprints were discovered either at the crime scene or on something connected to the alleged crime – like a firearm, for example. Here are strategies and considerations for constructing these alternative narratives:

Prior Access or Legitimate Reasons for Presence

In many situations, having access to and interactions with the implicated location prior to the incident in question may provide legitimate reasons that your prints were at the scene even though you did not commit the crime.

For example, if you’re accused of theft from a friend’s home but had been there regularly beforehand due to your relationship with them, your attorney can argue that your fingerprints found in your friend’s home are not evidence of theft, but rather physical evidence of a previous visit or social interaction.

Possibility of Unintentional Transfer by a Third Party

Introduce the possibility of secondary transfer during the trial. Explain that if a person touched something you had touched, they could actually bring your fingerprints to the location without you having been present at the scene.

Additionally, if an item bearing your fingerprints was moved from one location to another without your knowledge, this can explain how your fingerprints ended up there as well. These arguments can raise reasonable doubt regarding whether you were truly at the crime scene or not.

Your lawyer will need to explain to the jury how the fingerprints may be indirectly transferred and make them question the assumption that direct contact with the scene is the only explanation for the fingerprints.

Highlighting the Lack of Fingerprints in Critical Areas

Emphasizing the lack of fingerprints in areas related to an alleged crime can be used to cast doubt on a prosecutor’s claims.

If your prints aren’t found in places where one would expect them to be, this can support the argument that you weren’t involved in the crime.

For example, in a breaking and entering case, the spots most likely touched by the perpetrator would be the doorknobs or areas near a window or door if it’s alleged that you entered the house through these areas. If the fingerprints aren’t in these areas, your lawyer can argue that your prints being at the scene aren’t actually proof that you committed the crime.

This discrepancy can suggest that you were not involved in the crime, especially if your fingerprints are only found in non-incriminating locations.

File a Motion to Suppress

A motion to suppress requests that certain pieces of evidence – like fingerprints collected at the crime scene – are ruled to be inadmissible, meaning they can’t be used during trial.

The basis for this request might include proving that proper protocol wasn’t followed when the prints were collected or stored, or that the fingerprints were obtained during an unconstitutional search. If law enforcement did not have a valid warrant or there wasn’t probable cause, for example, the evidence seized may be challenged.

If fingerprints, which are crucial components backing up the prosecution’s argument, are successfully excluded based on a motion to suppress, this can significantly affect your case in your favor.

Educate the Jury

Educating jurors about the potential limitations behind fingerprint analysis is at the core of disputing such evidence in criminal defense. A key strategy involves using expert testimony to explain how fingerprint collection and analysis works and to debunk shoddy methodology of fingerprint collection and analysis.

Work With an Expert Witness

Engaging an expert witness is a strategic way to contest fingerprint evidence in a criminal case and it can end up being quite effective. Expert witnesses who specialize in forensic science, specifically those with experience in fingerprints, can analyze how the prints were collected as well as any analytical procedures applied by authorities during examination.

The defense’s experts can offer alternative explanations or express concerns about collection methods based on things like cross-contamination or environmental factors, which could contribute to skewed results.

Essentially, they can explain to the judge and jury why the fingerprints are not actually concrete evidence that you committed the alleged crime.

A Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help You Refute Fingerprint Evidence

If you are facing criminal charges related to fingerprint evidence, contacting an experienced Phoenix criminal defense lawyer at Orent Law Offices, PLC is the best way to fight back. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation. Give us a call at (480) 656-7301.

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