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Hidden Evidence: Latent Prints on Human Skin

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 65 Issue: 4 Dated: (April 1996) Pages: 21-24
I R Futrell
Date Published
4 pages
Research conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has led to a workable method for developing identifiable latent fingerprints on human skin that combines glue fuming and magnetic powder.
Skin has several unique qualities that distinguish it from other specimens examined for latent fingerprints. Skin grows and constantly renews itself, shedding old cells that might contain the imprint of an assailant's grip. Further, the pliability of skin allows movement and hence possible distortion of fingerprints. As the skin regulates body temperature and excretes waste through perspiration, latent fingerprints can be washed away. In addition to natural changes, the skin of homicide victims is often subjected to many harsh conditions, such as mutilation, body fluids, weather, and decomposition after death. The FBI has researched methods to develop identifiable latent fingerprints on human skin for many years. This research has focused on glue fuming devices and powders, and the technique most often used to develop identifiable latent fingerprints involves glue fuming in conjunction with regular, magnetic fingerprint powder. The FBI's research indicates that homicide victims should be examined for latent fingerprints whenever investigators believe the perpetrator touched the victim. If possible, bodies should be examined at the crime scene immediately after the coroner or medical examiner has completed an initial examination. At a minimum, the body should be glue fumed at the crime scene to preserve fingerprints and prevent contamination or obligation of fingerprints when the body is moved. Ideally, bodies should not be refrigerated prior to examination for latent fingerprints, since condensation that builds up on refrigerated bodies can have adverse effects by washing fingerprints away, reacting with glue to distort fingerprints, or causing powder to cake. 1 endnote and 2 photographs