Determination of latent fingerprint degradation patterns-a real fieldwork study.

International journal of legal medicine

PubMedID: 23232540

De Alcaraz-Fossoul J, Mestres Patris C, Balaciart Muntaner A, Barrot Feixat C, Gené Badia M. Determination of latent fingerprint degradation patterns-a real fieldwork study. Int J Legal Med. 2013;127(4):857-70.
For over a century, law enforcement agencies, forensic laboratories, and penal courts worldwide have used fingerprint impressions as reliable and conclusive evidence to identify perpetrators of criminal activity. Although fingerprint identification has been repeatedly proven as one of the most robust and definite forensic techniques, a measure of the rate at which latent fingerprints degrade over time has not been established effectively. Ideally, criminal investigators should be able not only to place any given individual at a crime scene but also be able to date the moment any latent fingerprints were deposited at the location. The present report aims to determine particular visual patterns of degradation of latent fingerprints exposed to certain monitored laboratory conditions simulating those in the field. Factors considered include temperature, relative humidity, air currents, composition of fingerprint depositions (sebaceous and eccrine), various exposures to daylight (direct, penumbra, and darkness), and type of physical substrate (glass and plastic) over a period of 6 months. The study employs a titanium dioxide-based powder as developer. Our results indicate that, contrary to common belief, certain latent fingerprints exposed to direct sunlight indoors degrade similarly to those in the dark where environmental conditions are more constant. While all sebaceous latent fingerprints on glass are still useful for identification after 6 months, diverse results are obtained with impressions on plastic; these demonstrate a much higher and faster degree of decay, making identification difficult or impossible, especially for eccrine depositions.