Forensic Science - Fake Fingerprints?
Fingerprint evidence has widely been thought to be irrefutable in court. Things aren't always as they appear to be.
Fingerprints have been long thought to be one of the most irrefutable forms of identification. If the police found your prints at a crime scene, chances are you were present and a jury is going to convict you of the crime.
Although uncommon, it is possible to remove, alter or even fake fingerprints. As defense lawyers, it is important to know that the possibility exists that identified prints found at a crime scene may not be real or from the accused. Proper forensic steps must be taken in the examination to determine whether a print is real or fake.
In 1934, mobster John Dillinger had his fingertips carved out and sulfuric acid poured into them.
Roscoe Pitts, a criminal from the 1940’s, had all ten fingers sutured to his chest for several weeks to cause growth of smooth skin on his fingertips.
Donald Roquierre cut circles in the middle of each finger, removed the resulting skin (deep down to include the basal layer of skin where fingerprints form), turned the circles upside down and replaced them on different fingers. He sewed them on with a needle and thread.
A plastic surgeon cut a "Z" shaped incision and switched them within each of the 10 fingers of several Mexican nationals living illegally in the United States.
Still others have tried defacing their prints using tattoo needles, lighters, and even lit cigarettes, where they burned their fingertip over and over again.
A less painful approach is to make artificial fingerprints, by any number of methods available on the internet. A simple way would involve taking a drinking glass or door knob after it has been touched. Develop the prints by using dusting powder. Take super glue and place a drop in a bottle cap. Invert the cap over the visible prints and the fumes will cause the print to become hardened and white. Next digitally photograph the print, enhance the image using software and then print it out on transparency film using a laser printer. The dummy print is then coated with a thin layer of wood glue. Once dried, the fake print is removed and attached to another person’s finger by using theatrical glue.
Whether the method used was painful or not, attempts have been made to elude the police by using altered or artificial fingerprints.
Special training and observation are used to determine whether an identification or elimination made through “irrefutable” fingerprints deserves to be questioned.
Larry F. Stewart has earned an AA degree from Florida Tech University, a BS in Forensic Science degree from the University of Central Florida, and a MS of Forensic Sciences degree from Antioch University. He has worked as a forensic scientist for over 25 years. During that time he has worked on many notable cases to include; Unabomber, accused war criminals, e.g. John Demanjuk, a.k.a. Ivan the Terrible, the reinvestigation of the Martin Luther King/JFK/CIA conspiracy theory, Jon Benet Ramsey, 9/11 attacks, Martha Stewart, and DC Sniper. He has testified as an expert witness in state, federal, military and foreign courts of law. He has also testified at The Hague and before the U.S. Congress. In his position as Lab Director and Chief Forensic Scientist for the US Secret Service, he managed up to 120 scientists, technicians, and support staff. In 2005, Mr. Stewart began the independent forensic consulting and investigative firm known as Stewart Forensic Consultants, LLC.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.