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Evidentiary Value of Fingerprint Analysis

Fingerprint identification is often called “the gold standard,” and this analogy is indeed an appropriate way to describe the historical relationship between fingerprint identification in particular and forensic science in general.  In 1911, the first American court upheld a murder conviction based on fingerprint identification evidence. People v. Jennings, 252 Ill. 534 (Ill. 1911). Nearly a hundred years later, confidence in that identification technique has been eroded by new research and litigation.  Although, forensic fingerprint examiners routinely produce incorrect results which miscarries the purpose of justice system, the court in United States v. Crisp, 324 F.3d 261, 265 (4th Cir. N.C. 2003), held that fingerprint and handwriting analysis have long been recognized by the courts as sound methods for making reliable identifications.  Fingerprint identification has been admissible as reliable evidence in criminal trials in this country since at least 1911.  Id. at 266.

Moreover, according to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, like fingerprint analysis, handwriting comparison testimony has a long history of admissibility in the courts of the United States.  Id. at 271. The fact that handwriting comparison analysis has achieved widespread and lasting acceptance in the expert community gives the court the assurance of reliability that the Daubert standard requires.  Id.  Furthermore, as with expert testimony on fingerprints, the role of the handwriting expert is primarily to draw the jury’s attention to similarities between a known exemplar and a contested sample.  Id. Thus fingerprint identification has been admissible as reliable evidence in criminal trials in the United States in 1911.

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