Frequently Asked Questions

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Mississippi Forensics Laboratory

Latent Prints

What is a latent print?

A latent print is a chance impression left on a surface that has come into contact with friction ridge skin (fingers and palms of the hand and toes and soles of the feet). The latent print is usually "hidden" or not visible to the human eye. Therefore, latent prints have to be processed by some means to render them visible. A latent print is composed mainly of sweat and any foreign material that may be on the finger, palm or foot at the time the print is deposited on a surface.

What is an inked print?

An inked print is a purposely made recording of the friction ridge skin. This is usually accomplished by rolling the finger from one side of the fingernail to the other on an inked slate and then transferring the ink from the finger in the same manner onto a contrasting colored surface like a fingerprint card or sheet of paper. This transfer of ink from the finger becomes a permanent record of the individual details present on that particular finger.

Are fingerprints really different?

Yes, no two persons have identical fingerprints, palm prints or foot prints, and no two fingers on the same person will be identical.

Do identical twins have the same fingerprints?

No, they may have the same fingerprint pattern types, but their individual prints are unique and different.

Do your fingerprints change?

Before birth until decomposition sets in after death, barring injury, our fingerprints, palm prints and foot prints do not change.

On what kinds of surfaces can latent prints be developed?

Any surface is possible other than a gas or liquid.

How many Galton details are required to identify a latent print?

There is no set number of minimum "points" required to make an identification in the United States. In fact, a 1972 study conducted by the International Association for Identification (IAI) concluded that there is no scientific basis for such a requirement.

Can a person still be identified if they have a scar on their finger?

Yes. In most cases the Latent Examiner can identify the print by other details that are still present on the finger. The scar, if permanent, will add to the individuality of the print thereby providing the Examiner with more useful information during future comparisons.

Can the age of a latent print be determined?

No, there are no scientific means of determining the age of latent print residue. If the circumstances surrounding the placement of a print on a surface are known, a possible time period may be established. However, there are too many factors that influence the quality of a latent print and its longevity on a surface to determine exact age.

What is required to be a latent Print Examiner?

In the Mississippi Forensics Laboratory, Latent Print Examiners are required to hold a minimum of a Bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. They must have 20/20 or corrected 20/20 eyesight with no form blindness. Once hired, examiners must complete the MSFL Latent Print Training Program (a formal two-year program) or its equivalent in training and experience.