The Probative Value of Fingerprint Evidence


The probative value of forensic evidence, particularly fingerprint evidence, has become indispensable in modern criminal investigations and judicial proceedings. Forensic evidence serves several critical functions: it can establish the occurrence of a crime and its elements, link a suspect to a crime scene or victim, identify individuals involved, exonerate the innocent, support victims’ testimonies, and clarify the sequence of events during a crime. Law enforcement agencies invest considerable resources in collecting and analysing forensic evidence from crime scenes, throughout investigations, and in the courtroom. Prosecutors often prefer cases bolstered by strong forensic evidence to conclusively establish guilt. The judiciary, too, has emphasised the importance of physical evidence over confessions and statements, highlighting the increasing significance of forensic science.

Types of Forensic Evidence:

Forensic evidence can be broadly categorised according to Fisher’s classification system. These categories include:

  • Biological Evidence: This encompasses blood, saliva, seminal stains, urine, and perspiration, predominantly used for DNA analysis.
  • Weapons Evidence: This category includes firearms, ammunition, gunshot residue, and knives.
  • Fingerprint Evidence: This involves complete 10-prints (full handprints) and latent prints (partial prints revealed through powdering or chemical processes).
  • Drug Evidence: Illegal drugs and related paraphernalia fall into this category.
  • Impressions Evidence: This includes shoe prints, tyre tracks, and tool marks.
  • Trace Evidence: Small materials such as fibres, hair, building materials, and glass.
  • Natural/ Synthetic Materials: This encompasses clothing, carpet cuttings, metal objects, plastic, and paper.
  • Generic Objects: Vehicles, bicycles, containers, doors, wood, and concrete.
  • Electronic/ Printed Data: Documents, computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.
  • Other Items: Miscellaneous items that do not fit into the above categories.

Each category of forensic evidence plays a unique role in the investigative and judicial processes, providing varying degrees of reliability and relevance.

Understanding Fingerprints:

Fingerprints are unique patterns formed by the ridges and valleys on the tips of fingers. The skin, which plays a crucial role in the formation of fingerprints, is composed of multiple tissues and serves various functions, including sensation and vascular activity. Friction ridges on the hands and feet improve grip and form distinctive patterns of peaks and valleys with sweat pores, producing fingerprints. Fingerprints are classified into three main types:

  • Plastic Fingerprints: These are created when fingers press into a soft material, forming a visible impression.
  • Contaminated Fingerprints: These result from fingers covered in a substance like dust, transferring that substance to another surface.
  • Latent Fingerprints: Composed of natural oils and sweat, these fingerprints require enhancement techniques such as powder dusting, iodine fuming, or laser detection to become visible.

Methods and Processes of Fingerprinting:

A typical fingerprint contains about 150 ridge characteristics. Formed at the dermal-epidermal junction, fingerprints are unique and unchangeable. Modern technology enables digital encoding of these characteristics, facilitating computerised fingerprint identification. The process involves scanning fingerprints, converting ridge characteristics into digital minutiae, and matching these minutiae against extensive databases.

Importance of Fingerprints:

Fingerprints serve as a reliable method of identification due to their uniqueness and permanence. Historical cases, such as the investigations into the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., illustrate the critical role of fingerprint evidence in solving crimes. Fingerprints are used for:

  • Arresting and convicting criminals.
  • Proving the innocence of wrongly accused individuals.
  • Identifying persons.
  • Employment and licensing applications.

Fingerprint evidence has been a cornerstone in many landmark cases, offering a level of certainty and reliability unmatched by other forms of evidence.

History of Fingerprinting in India:

India was an early adopter of fingerprinting in criminal investigations. In 1838, Sir William Herschel, the Chief Magistrate of the Hooghly district in Jungipoor, India used fingerprints to sign contracts, recognizing their uniqueness. Sir Edward Richard Henry developed a classification system for fingerprinting in the late 19th century, which became the official method in British India by 1896. This system laid the groundwork for the widespread use of fingerprinting in modern forensic science.

Probative Value of Evidence:

Probative value refers to the ability of evidence to prove or disprove a fact in a legal context. For evidence to be admissible, it must be relevant and material, significantly contributing to proving or disproving a proposition. Courts may exclude evidence if its probative value is outweighed by potential risks, such as unfair prejudice, confusion, or waste of time. The probative value of fingerprint evidence lies in its ability to uniquely identify individuals, thereby establishing a direct link between a suspect and a crime scene or object.

Legal Framework for Fingerprint Evidence in India:

The Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, regulate the collection and use of fingerprint evidence in India. These laws authorise law enforcement to take fingerprints of individuals under investigation or in custody and stipulate the conditions under which such evidence is admissible in court.

Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920

Section 3:

SHOs and investigating officers are authorised to take fingerprints of any person convicted of an offence punishable with rigorous imprisonment for one year or more, or for any offence that could lead to enhanced punishment upon a subsequent conviction.

Individuals ordered to provide security for good behaviour under Section 118 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C.) must, if required, allow their measurements, including fingerprints and photographs, to be taken by a police officer in the prescribed manner.

Section 4:

SHOs and investigating officers are also empowered to take fingerprints of non-convicted persons arrested for offences punishable with rigorous imprisonment for one year or more.

Section 5:

A First Class Magistrate can direct any arrested person to provide fingerprints for any investigation or proceeding under the Cr.P.C.

Magistrates can also order the fingerprinting of a person during a criminal trial under Section 73 of the Indian Evidence Act.

Section 6:

If a convict resists providing fingerprints, necessary measures should be taken to secure them.

Continued refusal can lead to charges under Section 186 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which is punishable.

Indian Evidence Act, 1872

Section 45:

Expert opinions on matters such as foreign law, science, art, handwriting, and fingerprints are admissible as evidence.

Experts are defined as persons skilled in these specific areas.

Section 73:

Courts can direct anyone present to provide fingerprints if needed for comparison purposes.

This provision also allows for the collection of handwriting samples for verification.

Section 74:

Fingerprint slips taken by police after a convict enters jail are considered public documents.

Section 60:

Oral evidence referring to an expert opinion must come from the expert who holds that opinion, though the expert does not need to be physically present in court.

Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.), 1973

Section 293:

Reports submitted by the Director of the Fingerprint Bureau as expert opinion can be used as evidence.

Courts may summon and examine these experts if necessary.

Constitutional Law:

Obtaining fingerprints or other samples (such as blood) is not considered self-incrimination under Article 20(3) of the Constitution, as established in the case of State of Bombay Vs. Kathi Kalu Oghad & Ors.

These legal provisions empower police officers and magistrates to collect and use fingerprints from both convicted and non-convicted individuals for investigation and legal proceedings. Expert opinions on fingerprint evidence are admissible in court, and such evidence does not constitute self-incrimination.

Judicial Perspective on the Probative Value of Fingerprint Evidence in India:

Courts in India have upheld the probative value of fingerprint evidence, often relying on expert opinions for validation. Key cases include:

  • Govinda Reddy Vs. State of Mysore: The Supreme Court emphasised the importance of fingerprint evidence, validated by experts. The court held that expert testimony on fingerprint comparison is admissible under Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
  • Musheer Khan @ Badshah Khan & Anr. Vs. State of M.P.: The court highlighted the need for thorough examination and cross-examination of fingerprint evidence. In this case, the court underscored the necessity for corroborative evidence to support fingerprint findings.

Some Important Cases:

  • G. Alavandar Vs. Unknown (1952): This case involved the identification of a body through fingerprint evidence, underscoring the significance of such evidence in forensic investigations. The case demonstrated the critical role of fingerprint evidence in establishing identity, especially when other means of identification are unavailable.
  • Himachal Pradesh Administration Vs. Om Prakash: The court in this case stressed the necessity of independent and corroborative evidence alongside fingerprint findings, influencing the final judgment. This case illustrated the importance of a holistic approach to forensic evidence, where fingerprint evidence is considered alongside other forms of evidence.

Achievements of the National Crime Records Bureau:

The Central Fingerprint Bureau (CFPB) has played a pivotal role in using fingerprint analysis to solve complex cases, confirming identities and aiding in criminal apprehensions through meticulous examination and comparison of fingerprints. The CFPB maintains an extensive database of fingerprint records, facilitating the identification of repeat offenders and linking unsolved cases to known criminals.

The CFPB’s achievements include:

  • Establishing a national fingerprint database to streamline identification processes.
  • Enhancing the accuracy and efficiency of fingerprint matching through advanced technology.
  • Providing training and resources to law enforcement agencies for effective fingerprint analysis.

Limitations of Fingerprint Evidence in India:

The implementation of digitising and data mining hardware across all levels of police forces, coupled with the high costs associated with digitisation and the preservation of fingerprint cards, presents significant technical challenges. Establishing a national fingerprint database and ensuring seamless networking between law enforcement agencies are additional hurdles to overcome.

India’s predominantly agricultural workforce, engaged in physically demanding jobs, often includes individuals with maimed limbs, worn-out fingerprints, scars, warts, and deteriorating ridge patterns. These factors complicate the fingerprinting process, especially within rural populations. Further complications arise from the need for proper training, qualifications, testing equipment, and climate-controlled preservation facilities.

While fingerprinting continues to be a critical source of evidence, it is gradually being supplemented by DNA fingerprinting, which uses various biological samples—such as blood, perspiration, hair, skin, and semen—to establish a crime more conclusively. Despite this shift, fingerprinting remains relevant, particularly as organisations like the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and the National Population Register (NPR) work towards creating a comprehensive individual profile database. This database could potentially provide an intrusive source of information, raising significant concerns about legal protections for citizens’ fundamental rights.

Ethical and privacy issues are paramount in this context, highlighting the need for stringent safeguards to protect citizens’ rights as technology evolves.


Fingerprint evidence remains a fundamental component of forensic science, providing a reliable means of identification and crime resolution. Its probative value is reinforced by robust legal frameworks and expert validation, playing a vital role in the criminal justice system. Addressing current challenges and embracing technological advancements are essential for maintaining the efficacy and reliability of fingerprint evidence in future criminal investigations. As forensic science continues to evolve, the integration of advanced technologies and improved practices will further strengthen the role of fingerprint evidence in ensuring justice and upholding the rule of law.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The content may not reflect the most current legal developments and is not guaranteed to be accurate, complete, or up-to-date. Readers should consult a qualified legal professional before taking any action based on the information provided. The authors and publishers disclaim any liability for any loss or damage incurred as a result of reliance on this article. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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