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Can Fingerprint Evidence Convict You of a Crime?

Fingerprint evidence is still central to many investigations, even after the rise of DNA testing. In fact, being fingerprinted is a common experience when being booked into jail on criminal charges. Other people regularly give fingerprints, such as non-citizens who obtain a green card to live as a lawful permanent resident. The FBI maintains a database of fingerprints, and it’s very common for police departments to lift fingerprint samples from a crime scene and send them to the FBI for a possible match.

Fingerprints are a type of circumstantial evidence. They are not proof, by themselves, that you committed a crime. However, when coupled with other evidence, a jury might conclude you are guilty of an offense.

At Tad Nelson & Associates, our Galveston criminal defense lawyers have developed experience with all types of forensic evidence, including fingerprints. We can discuss the strengths and weaknesses of this type of evidence. We can also discuss your criminal charges in a free consultation.

What Are Fingerprints?

Look closely at the pads of your fingers. You will see whorls and ridges. There are also pores, which might be invisible, but which nevertheless emit sweat and body oils. These fluids can leave a fingerprint on a relatively smooth surface after you touch it.

The police can “lift” a fingerprint from a surface, like the handle of a knife or gun, a countertop, or a drinking glass. Fingerprints are also lifted from plastic bags, such as bags which contain drugs. These prints then are compared to prints in databases, like the FBI database. The goal is to find a match.

Fingerprints can degrade over time, although new techniques help investigators judge the “age” of the fingerprint, so they can estimate when you left the print.

Because everyone’s fingerprints are different, a fingerprint is almost as good as DNA evidence at identifying a person who was holding a gun or at the scene of a crime. Police consider fingerprints to be powerful circumstantial evidence. If this evidence exists, you can expect it to show up at your trial.

Even better for the state: they don’t need your permission to obtain fingerprints. It’s a standard part of the booking process.

Explaining Away Fingerprints

We see fingerprint evidence used in all sorts of criminal cases:

  • Homicide, when prints are lifted from the murder weapon
  • Drug crimes, when prints are found on baggies or other drug paraphernalia
  • Internet crimes, where prints are found on a cell phone
  • Credit card fraud, with prints on the card used in the fraud

These are some of the most common crimes. In reality, fingerprints are used in all sorts of cases.

Will you be convicted if your prints are found at the scene or on a weapon? Not necessarily. There might be an innocent reason why your fingerprints were at the scene or on an object used in the crime:

  • A crime might have taken place in the victim’s apartment. Your fingerprints are there because you have visited the residence in the past, not because you were there when the crime was committed.
  • Your fingerprints could be on a murder weapon because you owned the weapon, or you touched it after discovering a dead body.
  • Your fingerprints are on drug baggies because someone took the bags from your house when they were empty.
  • You touched a credit card because the owner let you borrow it.

 There are all sorts of innocent reasons why fingerprints might show up near a crime scene. Their existence does not mean you were involved in a crime. A good criminal defense attorney considers every possible innocent explanation. And if you go to trial, we can explain away this evidence to a jury.

We Defend Clients Against the Most Common Crimes

The Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates has experience in all types of criminal cases, including theft, sex crimes, assault, and financial or white-collar offenses. You can count on our knowledge of the law to create powerful defense strategies.

Any defense begins by fully understanding the evidence against you. And this means knowing the limitations of the evidence.

Fingerprints have been used in criminal trials for decades, but they aren’t always reliable. A fingerprint expert often cites only their own “experience” to claim there is a fingerprint “match.” There are very few studies which establish the reliability of fingerprints, and a good attorney can challenge the admission of this testimony.

Let’s Get Started

If you were arrested, call attorney Tad Nelson. He is a board-certified criminal defense lawyer who can meet for a consultation.