Fingerprints Aren’t Foolproof

About one in 1,000 fingerprint examinations will implicate an innocent person, while 75 in 1,000 will inaccurately clear offenders. So forensic scientist Simona Francese sees room for improvement:

Fingerprint“I am working on the development of a technology that enables researchers to detect molecules in fingerprints,” Francese says. In so doing, she hopes investigators will be able to tell if the fingerprint’s owner smokes cigarettes or takes drugs. The technique, she says, can even determine if a person is a genetic male or a genetic female, because each sex produces a unique combination of peptides – short chains of amino acids – in their sweat. By using a statistical model, Francese says that “researchers can predict the sex of the person with 85-percent accuracy.” She even thinks they might be able to predict a person’s ethnicity using the same method in the near future.

The technique that Francese and her colleagues have developed – which is already used by police officers in West Yorkshire, UK – doesn’t just add more information to a suspect’s profile. It also improves the reading of the print itself, because it can be used to reconstruct multiple images of a fingermark. “You can map the location of various kinds of molecules located on those ridges,” she says, and tease them apart to create a number of fingerprint reconstructions that increase the accuracy of an examiner’s reading.

(Photo by Flickr user CPOA)