Fingerprints have been the gold standard for personal
identification in the forensic community for more than one hundred
years. Fingerprints are commonly used tools to understand the individuality
of a person so as to reveal his or her identity. Usually, no crime can be
committed without the aid and assistance of the hands, the prime body part
of the person. Fingerprints are of permanent nature and they remain same
throughout the life of an individual.
Fingerprints are of Universal Nature
which means all individuals carry this medium of identification. A criminal
uses his hands in committing any crime and hence leaves marks on the scene
of occurrence or on any object, which come in contact with his hands while
committing the crime. Hence, there are chances of occurrence of fingerprints
in all crimes and these impressions works as an evidence for identification
of person involved in any crime.
Keywords: Forensic, Fingerprints, Identification.
Fingerprints have been the gold standard for personal
identification in the forensic community for more than one hundred years;
still universal in spite of the discovery of DNA fingerprint. Fingerprints
have provided key evidence in countless cases of serious crime. When it
comes to crime, criminals try to cover up evidence which is within their
reach. But fingerprints are something which cannot be curtained up easily
and because of which; it plays an important role in solving a crime.
are something which is left over on anything touched and they cannot be
covered up because human fingerprints are unique, difficult to alter, and
durable over the life of an individual, making them suitable as lifelong
markers of Human Identity. Fingerprints can be readily used by police or
other authorities to identify individuals who wish to conceal their
identity, or to identify people who are incapacitated or deceased, as in the
aftermath of a natural disaster. Without prints there would be no evidence
at a crime scene that lasts long enough without disappearing.
Historical Background Of Fingerprints
Uses of fingerprints are found in ancient Babylonian, Chinese, Persian,
Roman civilization. These prints are considered the oldest friction ridge
skin impressions found to date. The deposition of the prints found in
ancient civilization was not specific and clear as the prints were made
intentionally or accidently.
Fingerprints were found in Babylon in clay
tabs, seals and pottery in which the deeds had been written in the second
millennium BC. Law officials used to take the fingerprints of arrested
people during the reign of King Hammurabi (1792–1750) BC in Babylon. These
have also been seen on the walls of Egyptian tombs, Greek and Chinese
potteries and also in bricks and tiles found in ancient Babylon and Rome.
In the period of Chinese Dynasty, fingerprints as well as hand and
footprints were collected and used as forensic evidence. By 650, and before
851 CE, Arab merchant Abu Zayd Hasan witnessed fingerprints as a means of
authentification. The famous Persian physician Rashed-al-Din Hamadani
(1247--1318 AD) refers to the Chinese practice of identifying people via
their fingerprints and commented that ‘Experience shows that no two
individuals have fingerprints exactly alike'. Japan also allowed its
illiterate citizens to use fingerprints as the signature in divorce papers
Friction ridge skin was first described in details by Dr Nehemiah Grew in
1684. In 1877 Sir William Harschel in India started to use fingerprints on
contracts and deeds and registering prisoners. Later fingerprint bureau was
established in Kolkata. Azizul Haque and Hem Chandra Bose were two Indian
fingerprint experts who primarily developed a Fingerprint Classification
System, named after their supervisor and it was known as Henry
Sir Francis Galton then further worked on it and
published details on fingerprint analysis and identification and showed that
chance of false positive fingerprint was about 1 in 64 billion people.
Argentina became the first country to rely solely on fingerprints as a
method of individualization. Nowadays, it is used worldwide to recognize
individual in any matter of disputes and questions in the premises of the
2019 - World's Largest Database: The Unique Identification Authority of
India is the world's largest fingerprint system using fingerprint, face and
iris biometric records. India's Unique Identification project is also known
as Aadhaar. Aadhaar is a voluntary program, with the goal of providing
reliable National ID documents to most of estimated India's 1.25 billion
As of January 2017, the Authority has issued more than 1.11 billion (more
than 111 crore) Aadhaar numbers.
Importance Of Fingerprints
The judiciary and public took some time to believe in the importance of
fingerprints as scientific aid, but the same is now recognized throughout
the world. The fingerprint as evidence plays a major role because of the
Unique:The fingers have papillary ridges and which have complex
patterns differing from one another. The patterns which are found not
only vary from one individual to other instead they are different and
unique within an individual. Duplication of the patterns has never been
observed; nor expected.
Permanent Fingerprints are of permanent nature and they remain same
throughout the life of an individual. The ridges which are found on the
fingers appear before birth i.e. during the third, fourth month of
pregnancy. Even the fingerprints remain after death of an individual
until the first layer of the skin i.e. epidermal layer is destroyed by
fire, insects, putrefaction or by any other creatures. Even it is not
possible to remove the epidermal layer by any surgery neither possible
to destroy the ridges by rubbing, cutting, or by burning. Fingerprints
are the nature identity card given to each individual.
Universal Fingerprints are of Universal Nature which means all
individuals carry this medium of identification. A criminal uses his
hands in committing any crime and hence leaves marks on the scene of
occurrence or on any object, which come in contact with his hands while
committing the crime. Hence, there are chances of occurrence of
fingerprints in all crimes. There are many criminals who use gloves
while committing crime and in these situations no fingerprints can be
Inimitable: Imitation of fingerprints cannot happen. People have
attempted but successful forgery of fingerprints is not reported so far.
The investigating officer and experts can identify this; the advancement
of science may bring forgery still closer to perfection but complete
success is extremely difficult.
Classifiable: Classification of fingerprints can be done easily
because everyone has different pattern of their ridges; hence different
fingerprints. Records of millions and millions of persons can be
classified and retrieved when needed.
Nature And Classification Of Fingerprints
Palmar surfaces of the hands and of the feet have friction ridges. These
ridges are the raised portions of the skin. These are known as epidermal
ridges. These ridges follow different directions giving rise to
multitudinous patterns. And these marks are the creator of the fingerprints.
There are various ridges in a fingerprint leading to different lengths,
shapes, turning, joining, bifurcation, etc. and these combinations have
virtually infinite variations. Each and every finger has a pattern of its
These patterns have been divided for classification based upon their
general shapes including:
- Henry System: This was developed in India and is used in most part
of the world.
- Roschler System: This was developed in Germany.
- Vucetich System: This is used in South America
Henry System which is being used in India classifies fingerprints as: Loop
patterns found in nearly 60-65% of population, 25-35% people have whorls,
about 6 -7% people have arches and about 1-2% people have composites. The
loops can be either Ulnar or Radial; Whorls can be Concentric, Spiral,
Double spiral, Almond shape and Arches can be Plain, Tented, and
A criminal while committing any crime touches many objects and they are
likely to bear fingerprints which can be obtained during investigation. The
investigating officer tries to reconstruct the scene of crime and imagine
himself as a culprit and tries to identify the location which he himself
have touched in commission of crime and by doing this the investigating
officer has to be careful that he does not leave his fingerprints on any of
the articles and tries to preserve other evidences as well.
Fingerprint Uniqueness In Twins
Fingerprint is unique due to its variations in twin babies. Twins are
fraternal twins or identical twins. The frequency of identical twins is
about 0.4% across different populations. Fingerprints can be used to
distinguish between twins. Jain showed, by comparing 94 pairs of identical
twins, that the verification system can be used to distinguish fingerprints
of identical twins. By analyzing 66 pairs of twins, Han found that
fingerprints can be used to identify identical twins with an insignificant
error in the performance.
Procedure For Collecting Fingerprints Found At The Scene Of Crime
Basically, the purpose of collecting fingerprints is to identify the
accused, suspected or any other witness. The search for fingerprints should
be done in a systematic manner i.e. the area suspected must be thoroughly
checked. The fingerprints which are being found in the scene of occurrence
are divided in three major parts as Latent, Patent and Impressed
fingerprints. A magnifying glass helps to judge the quality of fingerprints.
Polylight System is quite convenient for searching of fingerprints because
radiations are being given by this and they are in the form of strong beams
leading from UV to IR. Even this system is portable and can be used
Latent fingerprints are the ones which are invisible to the naked eyes so
the powders are excellent medium to develop the latent prints. This print is
made of the sweat and oil on the skin's surface. There are many powders
which are being used such as Grey for dark colored surfaces, Black against
light backgrounds, Fluorescent powder for multi- color surfaces, Metallic
powder like Aluminum, Copper, Brass, Gold, Antimony on special surfaces and
mostly where the fingerprints are on sticky surface. Fuming Techniques of
Iodine, Cyanoacrylate and Metallic vapors, Chemical Methods and Laser
Development are certain other techniques which help to collect Latent
Patent Fingerprints are the ones which are visible to human
eyes as they can be formed with any contact from blood, grease, dirt or ink.
Impressed fingerprints are also visible to naked eyes and they are formed by
pressing fingers on tar, soap, wax or any other fresh liquid. These are
three dimensional impressions.
Statutory Recognition Of Fingerprints In India
Identification Of Prisoners Act, 1920
The main objective of this act is to provide legal authority for collecting
of measurements relating to finger impressions, footprints, photographs of
the person accused or suspected of any offence. Before the enactment of this
Act, taking of finger impressions of criminals and suspected criminals is
void of legal sanction. But now it has validated the taking of finger
impressions and measurements as mentioned in S.3.
It explains that every person who has been convicted of any offence
punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term of one year or upwards
shall give his measurements to be taken by a police officer. The term
measurements include finger impressions also. The Act also makes it
compulsory to destroy the measurements on discharge or acquittal by any
S. 4 of the Act says about taking the measurements of non convicted persons
and it says that any person who has been arrested for an offence punishable
with rigorous imprisonment for a term of one year or upwards shall allow his
measurements to be taken.
Under S. 5, the magistrate can direct any person to allow his measurements
for the purpose of carrying out the investigation.
Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973
S. 293 explain that the report submitted by Director of Forensic Bureau can
be taken and accepted as evidence. Basically this section intends to save
time and avoid needless examinations. But if certain suspicions arise in the
report the court can summon the person who has submitted the report.
Indian Evidence Act, 1872
The importance of fingerprints due to its uniqueness, permanence,
universality, inimitability and classifiablness gave statutory recognition
and the legislators held fingerprint as valid evidence. The Indian Evidence
Act, 1872 contains provisions wherein fingerprints are considered as a valid
piece of evidence.
S. 45 says that when the court has to form an opinion on
a point of law which includes foreign law, science or art, handwriting,
finger impression, the opinion of persons skilled in that particular area
will be accepted. Originally the term finger impression was not included in
the section. The Amendment Act of 1899 added the phrase finger impression.
S.73 explains that the court may direct to any person present in the court
to give his fingerprints if the same is required for comparison with
questioned fingerprints by the court.
Fingerprints And Right Against Self Incrimination
One of the major governing issues of fingerprint is the policy of Self
Incrimination. Whether obtaining of finger impressions from an accused
amounts to self incrimination has been put to debate.
The right against self
incrimination is regarded as one of the main safeguard in criminal
procedures. Reasons being that of ensuring reliability of the statements
made by an accused, and secondly, ensuring that the statements which are
made by an accused are voluntarily given. There are many chances that the
person who is regarded as accused or suspect may be compelled by coercion or
threats during his investigation process and when a person is being
compelled to do so there are higher chances that he may give false
testimony. False testimony leads to mislead of judges and even the
prosecutor and leading in miscarriage of justice.
This right is a vital
safeguard against torture and during trial the onus is on the prosecution to
prove the charges leveled against the defendant and the `Right against Self-
Incrimination' is a vital protection to ensure that the prosecution
discharges the said onus.
In Re Sheik Muhammad Hussain,
it was held by the Madras High Court that
when police acquires fingerprints for the course of investigation and which
is later used in the trial procedure did not amount to testimonial
compulsion under Article 20(3) and this is admissible as evidence.
In Selvi and others vs. State of Karnataka
it was held that involuntary
administration of BEAP and Polygraph test cannot be held together with
because the test subject is not required to give
verbal answers, thereby falling outside the protective scope of Article
20(3). And even it was further made clear that verbal revelations made
during a Narcoanalysis do not attract the bar of Article 20(3) because the
inculpatory or exculpatory nature of these revelations is not known at the
time of conducting the test.
In State of Kerala vs. Sankaran Nair
, the Kerala High Court considered
the privilege against self incrimination and obtaining of handwritings which
are obtained by non voluntary act of the person concerned. The court
concluded that the guarantee against self incrimination is never violated.
Even in Gulzhar Khan v. State
, Delhi Administration v. Pali Ram
Kumaran Nair v. Bhargavi
, the court mentioned that the direction given by
court to give finger impressions or specimen handwritings is not against the
right under Article 20(3).
There are various conflicting decisions made about the right given in
Article 20(3) in case State of Bombay vs. Kathikalu Oughad
are certain issues which are dealt. They are related to:
- Whether obtaining of handwritings from an accused of crime by police
for comparison is covered under Article 20(3);
- Direction which is given by a court to an accused who is present in
the court to give his specimen of handwriting and signature for
comparison under Section. 73 of Indian Evidence Act violated Article
- Whether obtaining palms and finger impressions of an accused by an
investigating officer in presence of magistrate violated Article 20(3).
The Court, by majority, held that the Constitution makers
intended to protect an accused person from self-incrimination and they have
never intended to put some hurdles in any efficient or effective
investigations which may lead justice to criminals. And Section 73 of Indian
evidence Act and Section 5 and 6 of Identification of Prisoners Act also
permits taking of thumb impressions and handwritings and these documents
provided by them are not personal testimony and does not come under the
preview Article 20(3).
It was also mentioned that giving of thumb impressions, specimen writings,
prints of palms or showing of any body part does not come under “to be a
”. Even before the commencement of Constitution obtaining of
finger impressions were in existence. Fingerprinting can of course be said
to be an encroachment on liberty of person. Moreover, when the person is
called upon by any court or authority for giving his fingerprints or
specimen of handwritings he is not giving anything related to personal
testimony. This personal testimony depends upon volition. An accused person
can make any statement or even he may refuse to make any statement but he
cannot deny giving his prints and specimen of handwriting.
The evidences which are collected by the forensic investigators establish
the involvement or presence of the person in a definite place or even the
traces of a particular substance. When the person concerned is ready to give
his signature and the specimen of handwritings without raising any
objections then the protection under Article 20(3) of the Indian
Constitution is not hindered and then these can be taken into consideration;
and even the direction given to an accused to give signature, thumb
impressions, footprints, fingerprints to be a witness against himself is not
hit by Article 20(3).
In brief, it can seen that the giving of impressions or writings or
signature by an accused person, though it may amount to furnishing of
evidence, is not included under the term “to be a witness”. These things are
neither oral nor documentary evidences but belong to the third category of
material evidences, which is beyond the limit of testimony.
Some Case Laws
In Ammini v. State of Kerala
the fingerprints were found on 2
glasses in the deceased home. The expert compared and tallied those
fingerprints with that of the accused. But the Trial Court didn't believed
this as important piece of evidence on the point that they are not clear
and it was in doubt that whether the photographs were of the original
prints. The High Court criticized the Trial Court for this view and Supreme
Court relied on establishing the guilt of the accused on the fingerprints
In Balakrishna Das Agarwal v. Radha Devi
the Court mentioned that
the forensic scientist is essentially a witness of the Court; neither a
witness on behalf of the prosecution nor on behalf of the defense; and
mentioning that an expert is a person who by his experience, knowledge and
training expresses his opinion.
Bhaluka Behra v. State
case mentions that the weight and
importance given to an opinion by an expert is a different thing. A
fingerprint is in reality an unforgeable signature. So the evidence of the
fingerprint expert is also given considerable weight.
Even in Pathumma v. Veerasha
 case, it was held by Kerala High
Court that no two persons can have the same fingerprints. Even finger
impressions of an individual differs from it, no two fingers give the same
impressions. And if no differences are found we can draw a conclusion that
they are made by the same person.
In James v. State of Kerala
, some finger impressions and foot
impressions were obtained from scene of crime and the pictures of the same
were taken up. But these photographs were blurred and bit dirty. But the
Kerala High Court mentioned that even if the fingerprints are blurred and
dirty it depends upon the court to decide that whether they are reliable
source of evidence or not.
In State v. Karugope[
13], it was mentioned by Patna High Court that
opinion of fingerprint expert is accepted and is regarded as sufficient
piece of evidence for the conviction of the accused.
The science of fingerprinting is century old discovery. One of the basic
importances of fingerprints is that it helps in establishing identity of a
person with minimum time and efforts; and then enabling speedy
investigation. The fingerprint evidence has been referred to as reliable
piece of evidence. They are also permanent and do not undergo any change. It
is necessary for the courts to form an opinion only after discussion or
after concerning with an expert.
While admitting fingerprints the court should be careful enough to study the
reasons which are given by the expert. These opinions made by experts help
the court in drawing the final conclusion regarding the facts. These opinion
guide the courts and to decide the issues; ultimately the court has to use
his own legal mind in relation to the issues involved. Over the year's
fingerprints has played a crucial role in identifying the accused and
awarding them with punishments.
- Re Sheik Muhammad Hussain : AIR 1957 Mad 47
- Selvi and others vs. State of Karnataka: 05.05.2010 – SC :
- State of Kerala vs. Sankaran Nair : AIR 1960 Ker 392, 1960 CriLJ
- Gulzhar Khan v. State: A.I.R. 1962 Pat. 255
- Delhi Administration v. Pali Ram: A.I.R. 1979 S.C. 14
- Kumaran Nair v. Bhargavi: 1988 Cri. L. J.1000
- State of Bombay vs. Kathikalu Oughad: A.I.R. 1960 S.C. 1808
- Ammini v. State of Kerala: AIR 1995 Ker 252
- Balakrishna Das Agarwal v. Radha Devi:AIR 1989 All 133
- Bhaluka Behra v. State: AIR 1957 Ori 172, 1957 CriLJ 902
- Pathumma v. Veerasha: 1988(1) K.L.T. 798.
- James v. State of Kerala: 1994 (1) K.L.J.871.
- State v. Karugope: A.I.R. 1954 Pat. 131