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Court Acceptance of Fingerprint Evidence

During a late nineteenth century murder trial in Allahabad, India, where the accused's print in blood was found near the victim's body, the accused "pleaded" an alibi. The judge disposed of it in these words:

In this land of lies, an ounce of good circumstance is worth many pounds of oral evidence, and even if, instead of two, 200 swore they had sat in a circle round the accused from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. it would be nothing in my mind compared with the unexplained bloody thumb print.
Finger-Print Evidence
Dept. of the Navy, 1920


Fingerprint evidence has enjoyed a solid reputation for over one hundred years in the courts of the World. There have been hundreds of court rulings accepting fingerprint, palm print and sole print evidence. The courts of the world have recognized and accepted the basic tenets of fingerprint identification, uniqueness and their permanence. Fingerprints enjoy such a positive reputation in the Courts of the United States that they have taken "judicial notice" of the fact that everyone's fingerprints are different and are sufficient to stand alone for identification.


Below is an overview of some of the early and major court rulings on friction skin evidence:


The first courts to acknowledge fingerprint evidence were in India. One of the earliest decisions occurred in the 1904 case of Emperor v. Sahdeo, 3 Nagpur, L. Rep. 1, where the Court stated:

The court calls into use the well-established fact that, so far as human experience goes, there are no two human beings in the world who exactly resemble one another in every single detail. The papillary ridges presented by the surface of the skin on the palms of the hand and soles of the feet, have been ascertained to be the most important of anthropological data. By those who have made a study of the subject, there has never been found any case in which the pattern made by one finger exactly resembled the pattern made by any other finger of the same or any other hand. On the contrary, the one may readily be differentiated from all others by comparison.


In Parker v. Rex, (Australia) 14 C.L.R. 681; 3 B.R.C. 68 (1912) the court stated in it's ruling:

The fact of the individuality of the corrugations of the skin on the fingers of the human hand is now so generally recognized as to require very little if any evidence of it. A fingerprint is therefore in reality an unforgeable signature.


The first landmark case recognizing the reliability of fingerprints in the United States occurred in the 1911 case of People v. Jennings, 254 Ill. 534 ; 96 N.E. 1077 ; 43 L.R.A. (N.S.) 1206. After reviewing the testimony of four fingerprint experts from the United States and Canada who testified to the basis of fingerprint identification, Chief Justice Carter of the Illinois Supreme Court stated in his written opinion:

We are disposed to hold from the evidence of the four witnesses who testified, and from the writings we have referred to on the subject, that there is a scientific basis for the system of fingerprint identification and the courts are justified in admitting this class of evidence.


In 1918, the Supreme Court of Nevada ruled during an appeal of a conviction for the robbery and murder of a United States Mail stage coach driver, that palm prints were admissible as evidence. State v. Kuhl, 42 Nev. 195, 175 Pac. 190. The Chief Justice's written ruling stated:

There is no basic difference between fingerprints and palm prints.


In 1938, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled on an appeal that sole print evidence is no different from fingerprint evidence. Commonwealth v. Bartollini, 299 Mass.503, 13 N.E. 2nd 382, cert. denied 304 U.S. 562. The Court ruled:

There was ample evidence that footprints, like fingerprints, remain constant throughout life and furnish an adequate and reliable means of identification.


In Piquett v. United States, 81 F.2d 75,81 (7th Cir. 1936) the court stated:

This court will take judicial knowledge of the well-recognized validity of fingerprint identification testimony.


In 1941, in Grice v. State, 142 Tex. Crim. 4, 151 S.W. 2nd 211, during an appeal of a burglary conviction, that was based solely on the evidence of a partial fingerprint found on a pane of glass, Judge Beauchamp of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals wrote:

It has occurred to us that instead of the state being called upon to offer proof that no two finger prints are alike, it may now be considered in order for those taking the opposite view to assume the burden of proving their position.


And finally in United States v. Magee, 261 F2d 609, 612 (7th Cir. 1958):

Obviously, there can be no more reliable evidence of the identity of a defendant than his own fingerprints.



Continue reading ...  Recent Court Rulings on the Admissibility of Fingerprint Evidence


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