According to Smithsonian magazine, the first case in which fingerprint evidence was used in court to convict a person of a crime was more than 100 years ago. In that case, an intruder shot and killed a homeowner in a struggle. As he fled the house, the intruder left his unique mark on a freshly painted railing, however – an identifying impression that changed our criminal justice system forever.
Since then, many people have assumed that fingerprints reliably point directly at the guilty. But a pair of studies done three years ago showed that fingerprint evidence turns up false positives as often as 1 in every 18 cases. In fact, we recently read in the New York Post of a case in which a man spent 12 years in prison after being accused of murder and then convicted for a killing he did not commit.
The 36-year-old Tennessee man was recently freed in a plea deal that gave him time served for felony aggravated assault, but allows him to maintain his innocence as he seeks a pardon.
He had been accused in 2006 of the beating death of a man. A single fingerprint found at the scene was retested last year and identified a man who later committed suicide as police were arresting him in yet another murder case.
As we can see from this case, fingerprints don’t always lead officials to the guilty party. There are sometimes false positives and sometimes simply inadequate print testing. In the Tennessee case, an innocent man spent a dozen years of his life in prison for a murder he did not commit.
Those who have been accused of serious crimes should have on their side a Kew Gardens criminal defense attorney who knows how use evidence and law to protect you, your rights and your freedom at every step of the legal process.