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Fingerprint Examination in Criminal Justice System of India

Patcheappan. S

12 Jun 2022

In every forensic investigation, positive identification of living or deceased is critical

A fingerprint is an impression of the friction ridges of all or any part of the finger [1]. The skin of the palms of the hands and fingers, as well as the soles of the feet and toes, is referred to as friction ridge skin. The following factors distinguish friction ridge skin from the rest of the body's skin - The presence of elevated ridges, a thicker and more structurally complex epidermis, greater sensory capacity, the absence of hair, and the absence of sebaceous glands. The existence of friction ridges increases the friction between the skin and the object being grasped. Raised ridges and sunken furrows are present on the skin, which are used for grasping and other mechanical activities. Thus, the term fingerprint refers to the imprint produced by a finger's friction skin rather than the physical structure itself. [2].

The science of personal identification by means of finger-prints is based upon the fact that no two individuals have exactly the same arrangement and formation of the papillary ridges of the finger-tips. The ridge arrangement on each human finger is unique and does not change with growth or age. Despite changes in personal appearance due to age, disease, plastic surgery, or accident, fingerprints can expose an individual's real identity. Thus, fingerprints provide an ironclad form of personal identification. Injury to the ridge structure or the dermal papillae, such as superficial burns, abrasions, or cuts, has no effect on the ridge structure or the dermal papillae, and any new skin that grows duplicates the original pattern. The ridges will be irreversibly obliterated if the dermal papillae are destroyed. [3].

Identification can be made with any ridged part of the hand or foot. Finger impressions, on the other hand, are favoured over those from other areas of the body because they can be obtained quickly and easily, and the ridges produce patterns (distinctive outlines or shapes) that can be easily sorted into groups for filing. For more than a century, fingerprint analysis has been used to identify criminals and solve crimes, and it remains a highly valuable tool for law enforcement. One of the most essential functions of fingerprints is to assist investigators in connecting one crime scene to another involving the same individual. Fingerprint identification also aids detectives in tracking a criminal's past, previous arrests and convictions, and in making choices about sentencing, probation, parole, and pardoning. Dactyloscopy, or the process of using fingerprints as a form of identification, is a crucial tool for modern law enforcement. Dactyloscopy is the study of fingerprint identification. Dactylograms are nothing but fingerprints. The term Dactyloscopy is derived from Greek word “dactyloskopein (dactylos – finger, skopein – to watch) meaning examination of fingerprints in order to establish identity [4].


In 1853, Sir William Herschel, an executive of British Empire in Hooghly district, Bengal, India, found it necessary, as a means of positive identification of the natives entering into contracts with the British Empire, to take the impression of the palms of their hands. Realizing the full value of fingerprints as a means of identification, he tried to induce the British Government to adopt them officially and to install the system throughout the Empire. In this he failed, but it was the foundation he had laid that opened the way for the investigation as to the value of fingerprinting, subsequently made by Sir Francis Galton.

In 1888, Sir Francis Galton named three of the standard patterns now in use, known as the “Arch,” “Loop,” and Whorl.” As a result of his study and research he succeeded in prevailing upon the British government to adopt fingerprinting as a subsidiary to the Bertillon system of identification. His great fight was to prove the superiority of fingerprints, as a means of identification, over the Bertillon systems of measurements, a system devised and perfected by Alphonse Bertillon. He is a French anthropologist who succeeded in getting the Paris Police Department to use his system, which consisted of eleven measurements of the human body [5].

In 1870s Alphonse Bertillon developed a new biometric method, known as anthropometries or Bertillonage at Paris. It classified criminals based on their body measurements (height, arm length, and other parameters) and physical descriptions, which were written on cards, in addition to photographs. This helped capture repeat offenders who often gave different names to law enforcement.

There has been varied statement with regard to the evolution of finger-print method. Law commission of India 87th report, 1980 on identification of prisoner’s act 1920 states that “the science of finger-prints was originated in India, which is systematized by Sir William Herschel of the Indian Civil Service and Sir Francis Galton. This system was employed to capture the finger and hand images for verifying the identity of the employees”. However, Mr. Underhill writes in his book ‘Criminal Evidence’, that “there has been different statement on the usage of fingerprints for purposes of criminal investigation originated in China, India, and Japan, but there seems to be no actual authority for the claim. It is true that numerous imprints were utilised in ancient times, some by forming impressions with finger nails, others by dabbing with one or more fingers, and in certain cases, by imprinting a thumb or a whole hand on a paper"[6].


There are certain patterns that fingerprints display. The fingerprints are divided three basic types - whorl, loop, and arch.

Loops: This pattern recurves on itself and forms a loop shape. This can be further divided into radial loop that points towards the thumb or ulnar loop that points towards the ulna bone. These loop patterns form the majority of the fingerprint (60%).

Whorls: These are circular patterns similar to whirlpools. They can be plain or concentric whorls, a central pocket loop that is a loop with a whorl at one end, a double loop (two loops in a S-shaped pattern), or accidental loop that carries an irregular shape. These patterns constitute about 35% of a person’s fingerprint.

Arches: These are wave-like and consist of plain arches and bent arches that rise to a sharper point compared to plain arches. These patterns form 5% of the fingerprint.


There are three different types of fingerprints: patent, plastic, or latent.

1. Patent prints: Visible Finger-mark or patent fingermarks has been formed on a substrate as a result of contact with a finger and is readily visible during a cursory visual examination. Such marks have been deposited in visible contaminants such as dirt, ink, blood or paint and can be seen without chemicals or equipment. Sweat and oil can also leave patent prints on glass or metal surfaces.

2. Plastic fingerprints: Plastic fingerprints are formed by pressing your fingertips into fresh paint, wax, soap, or tar to create three-dimensional impressions. Plastic fingerprints, like patent fingerprints, are easily visible to the naked eye and do not require any additional processing to make them visible.

3. Latent prints must be developed with chemicals or equipment before they can be seen. An impression of friction ridge detail the hand that have come into contact with a receptive surface, which may not be readily visible. Marks of this type, which may be composed of eccrine sweat, sebaceous sweat and contaminants, will require the application of visualization processes before they can be detected.

Types of fingerprint
How to analyze finger prints,


Fingerprint or mark information collected to aid the identification of deceased person(s) or the controlled recording of the friction ridge detail from a cadaver is called Post-mortem fingerprints. The set is taken under controlled conditions, usually at a mortuary and this information can be sourced from documents known to belong to the deceased that have been signed with an inked impression or from examination of items known to have been handled by them whilst living. This data is often collected in conjunction with DNA samples. Due to varied levels of decomposition and other post-mortem alterations, the decedent's fingers may need to be reconditioned during post-mortem fingerprint recovery. Various procedures for postortem fingerprint recovery necessitate the use of supplies and equipment that must be handled with care. Prior to beginning recovery efforts, proper documentation and photography of the overall condition of the remains, as well as photographs of the hands and fingers, is required [7].

Fingerprints are especially useful in identifying victims of disasters or mass fatality occurrences if there are a large number of unidentified bodies that need to be identified quickly.

According to the internationally recognised and agreed INTERPOL Disaster Victim Identification standards, fingerprints are one of the only three primary identifiers. In many countries, these primary identifiers (fingerprints, DNA, and odontology) are essential for legal identification and the issue of a death certificate [8].


The relevant laws with respect to Forensic Fingerprints are The Indian Evidence Act, 1872, and The Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022.

The Indian Evidence Act, 1872

The fingerprint evidence in a court of law is governed by Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act. Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, as amended by Act V of 1899, defines: Any other person whose finger prints are ordered to be maintained by the Govt. of India from time to time, subject to the provisions of the Identification of prisoners Act (act XXXIII of 1920). "When the Court has to form an opinion upon a point of foreign law, or of science or art, or as to identity of handwriting or finger impressions, the opinions upon that point of persons especially skilled in such foreign law, science or art, or in questions as to identify of handwriting or finger impressions are relevant facts. Such persons are called Experts” [9]

Evidence provided by the forensic expert is considered as circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence is interpretation drawn from scientific analysis like, finger printing, ballistics; DNA test etc. Akin to ocular evidence, circumstantial evidence is also admissible in the court of law. Circumstantial evidence has a critical role to play in the criminal justice system when ocular evidence is not sufficient. Section 45 of Indian evidence Act 1872, is the only provision that discusses about experts, competency of the expert witnesses and the admissibility of opinion provided by such experts. As per the said provision an expert is a person “who is skilled or having knowledge in foreign law, science or art, handwriting or finger impression”. Thus, fingerprint expert fall under the category of science which is admissible in court of law [10]

The Criminal Procedure (Identification) Act, 2022

The act came into force on 18th April, 2022 repealing the Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920. Section 4(1) of the Criminal Procedure (identification) Act, 2022 empowers the National Crime Records Bureau to collect, store, preserve the measurements and store, share, disseminate, destruct and dispose records. As per section 2(1)(b) of the act "measurements" includes finger-impressions, palm-print impressions, foot-print impressions, photographs, iris and retina scan, physical, biological samples and their analysis, behavioral attributes including signatures, handwriting or any other examination referred to in section 53 or section 53A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 [11].


[1] Forensic Science Regulator, Fingerprint examination: terminology, definitions and acronyms, 2013, available at:

[2] Hicklin R.A (2009) Anatomy of Friction Ridge Skin. In: Li S. Z., Jain A. (eds) Encyclopaedia of Biometrics. Springer, Boston, MA.

[3] Hoover, J. Edgar. "fingerprint". Encyclopedia Britannica, 30 Jul. 2021, Accessed 10 June 2022.

[4] CriminalCPD, An Introduction to Dactyloscopy, available at:

[5] “The Science of Fingerprint Identification.” The American Journal of Police Science 2, no. 4 (1931): 302–5.

[6] Jordan, Louis F. “Fingerprinting: Its Use and Limitation.” The Virginia Law Register 12, no. 8 (1926): 470–77.

[7] (Marzena Mulawka, Chapter 2 - Postmortem (PM) Fingerprint Processing Overview and Workflow, Editor(s): Marzena Mulawka, Postmortem Fingerprinting and Unidentified Human Remains, Anderson Publishing, Ltd., 2014, Pages 9-17.)

[8] "Position Statement Concerning the Use of Antemortem Fingerprints for Humanitarian Purposes to Identify Unknown Deceased Persons,

[9] Finger Prints in India, 2020, Central Finger Print Bureau, National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs,

[10] V. KRISHNAMACHARI, LAW OF EVIDENCE 314-340 (Narendra Gogia & Company 2017)

[11] The Criminal Procedure (identification) Act, 2022,

[12] In every forensic investigation, positive identification of living or deceased is critical, Mutalik, Vimi Sunil, Aparna Menon, N. Jayalakshmi, Asha Kamath and A. R. Raghu. “Utility of cheiloscopy, rugoscopy, and dactyloscopy for human identification in a defined cohort.” Journal of Forensic Dental Sciences 5 (2013): 2 - 6

Author S. Patcheappan is Assistant Public Prosecutor (APP), Puducherry

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