The ‘science’ of fingerprinting: assessing ability to determine surface type in fingerprint lifts

Tebbs, Charlotte (2014) The ‘science’ of fingerprinting: assessing ability to determine surface type in fingerprint lifts. BSc dissertation, University of Portsmouth.

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    Abstract

    For over a century, fingerprint evidence has been admissible in courts in the United Kingdom. Formed before birth, fingerprints are claimed to be unique and permanent, making it possible to identify the single donor of a crime scene mark. However, once thought to be infallible, the integrity of this evidence has increasingly been challenged through miscarriages of justice, both nationally and worldwide. Often, this is due to erroneous identification by the fingerprint examiner. This study begins by reviewing fingerprints and such cases, before moving to consider the case of businessman Alan McNamara. He claims to have suffered a miscarriage of justice but does not dispute the identification. His defence propose that the fingermark was recovered from an alternative surface to that which was recorded; a surface which he could innocently have come into contact with through his business. This presents another possible weakness in fingerprint evidence.
    Primary research was thus conducted in order to consider expert ability to identify the substrate from which fingermarks have been lifted. Through the use of ten fingerprint lifts accompanying a questionnaire, scenes of crime officers and fingerprint examiners were asked to determine the surface that they considered each lift most likely to have come from. Within the sample, ability is shown to be poor. It was found that grained surfaces could be identified by experts to be smooth, this response would suggest that marks incorrectly labelled at the crime scene could remain unchallenged. Moreover, the confidence of experts in their choice proved to be low, raising concerns regarding presentation of findings in court. It is therefore argued that allowing experts to give opinion on such evidence increases the risk of miscarriages of justice. Overall, further research is required in order to increase the operational applicability of findings.

    Item Type: Dissertation
    Departments/Research Groups: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Institute of Criminal Justice Studies
    Depositing User: Beth Atkins
    Date Deposited: 20 Nov 2014 08:43
    Last Modified: 28 Jan 2015 12:44
    URI: http://eprints.port.ac.uk/id/eprint/15907

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