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Latent-Fingerprint Fabrication: Simple Steps to Prevent Fabrication and Ensure the Integrity of Legitimate Prints

NCJ Number
Evidence Technology Magazine Volume: 1 Issue: 2 Dated: July-August 2003 Pages: 26-29
Kristi Mayo
Date Published
July 2003
4 pages
After distinguishing between "forged" and "fabricated" latent fingerprints, this article focuses on fabricated prints and how to prevent and detect them.
A "forged" latent print is the print of an innocent person that has been "planted" at a crime scene by the perpetrator in an attempt to hide his own culpability. A "fabricated" latent print is manufactured or misrepresented by a person involved in the investigation in order to enhance the case against a suspect. The prevention of the fabrication of fingerprints in order to boost the evidence against a suspect is best achieved through the cultivation of an agency subculture and environment in which honesty and integrity has the highest priority, even higher than the maximizing of clearance rates. Officers must be trained and continuously impressed with the importance of using legal and reliable methods for collecting, preserving, and presenting evidence. Ultimately, however, there is one key way to stop fabricated latent prints from getting into the system. Latent print examiners must be trained to recognize fabrication and question such evidence. Knowledge of how fabrication is perpetrated is important. The usual methods are to lift the print from a known, inked print and then label it as having come from the crime scene; mislabeling the print as having come from a crime scene when it was actually lifted from a more benign location; and through the use of a staged photograph of the print. Factors that should alert the examiner to fabrication are a print that is too good to be true; a lift print that does not match the surface from which it was supposedly taken; a lift that has different characteristics from the other lifts collected at the same scene; and inconsistency in lift tapes. Collection techniques that can avoid any suspicion of fabrication are to photograph the print in place before it is lifted; to have another officer, technician, or even a victim initial the lift card to verify its authenticity; include the description of the latent print in crime-scene processing notes; and using a marking, perhaps with a ballpoint pin, on the surface near the print to be included in a re-photograph of the print. Other techniques are to keep lift cards together and to use serial-numbered lift cards.