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Fingerprint Analysis

FingerprintNational Academy of Sciences Report - See pp. 136-150 for the National Research Council's assessment of the discipline of fingerprint analysis. The 2009 NAS Report cited "a thorough analysis of the ACE-V method" that concluded: "'We have reviewed available scientific evidence of the validity of the ACE-V method and found none.'" pp. 142-143 (citation omitted).

The 2016 PCAST Report found that latent fingerprint analysis is a foundationally valid subjective methodology, but with a false positive rate that is substantial and is likely to be higher than expected by many jurors based on longstanding claims about the infallibility of fingerprint analysis. Conclusions of a proposed identification should include accurate information about the limitations on the reliability of the conclusion. See p. 101-2. Validity as applied requires that an expert: (1) has undergone appropriate proficiency testing; (2) discloses whether he or she documented the features in the latent print in writing before comparing it to the known print; (3) provides a written analysis explaining the selection and comparison of the features; (4) discloses whether, when performing the examination, he or she was aware of any other facts of the case that might influence the conclusion; and (5) verifies that the latent print in the case at hand is similar in quality to the range of latent prints considered in the foundational studies. See p. 102.

The 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Forensic Science Assessments: A Quality and Gap Analysis – Latent Fingerprint Examination found that while latent fingerprint examiners can successfully rule out most of the population from being the source of a latent fingerprint based on observed features, insufficient data exist to determine how unique fingerprint features really are, thus making it scientifically baseless to claim that an analysis has enabled examiners to narrow the pool of sources to a single person.

Friction Ridge Subcommittee - this Scientific Area Committee (part of the OSAC) has taken over the work previously done by the Scientific Working Group on Friction Ridge Analysis, Study and Technology (SWGFAST). It is a collaboration of practitioners working to improve discipline practices and build consensus standards for the field of friction ridge analysis.

  • NIJ Fingerprint Sourcebook - This National Institute of Justice publication was prepared by SWGFAST in 2011. All 15 chapters are available for free online. This publication sets standards for fingerprint identification and addresses issues such as bias and reliability of the technique.

UK Fingerprint Source Book - this reference document drafted in March 2013 describes in detail the various techniques used for developing and comparing fingerprints. Provides more historical and scientific information about the techniques used to develop fingerprints than most lab standard operating procedures do.

International Association of Identification - Professional association for forensic identification disciplines including fingerprint analysis.


  • Motion to Exclude Latent Fingerprint Testimony (Filed 10-30-2009 in Superior Court of the District of Columbia) based in part on the NAS report, argues that "the relevant scientific community does not generally accept that latent fingerprint analysis can reliably and accurately demonstrate a connection between a latent print and a specific individual."
  • Sample Motion to Exclude Latent Fingerprint Testimony - NC motion drafted in 2011 based on NAS report, uses the Howerton/Goode standard and Rules of Evidence 702 and 403. Please note that this motion is based on the Howerton/Goode standard and not the new Rule of Evidence 702. The new Rule of Evidence 702 may contain additional avenues to challenge the admissibility of expert testimony. For cases with a date of offense on or after October 1, 2011, attorneys should update this motion to use the new Rule of Evidence 702 standard. Also, not all possible case law that may be cited is included on this website. NC attorneys seeking to challenge the admissibility of fingerprint evidence testimony should contact Sarah Olson before filing this motion.
  • Motion to exclude latent fingerprint testimony - in the Superior Court of King County, Washington (Frye jurisdiction)


  • State v. McPhaul, ___ N.C. App. ___, 808 S.E.2d 294 (Nov. 7, 2017) - the Court of Appeals applied the new Daubert test for expert testimony and held that trial court abused its discretion by allowing the State’s expert witness's testimony about fingerprint evidence. A petition for discretionary review was granted by the NC Supreme Court which subsequently found that discretionary review was improvidently granted, leaving intact the Court of Appeals opinion. The court held that the witness’s testimony failed to satisfy Rule 702(a)(3) which requires that an expert witness be able to explain the abstract methodology underlying the opinion and reliably apply that methodology to the facts of the case. Here, the witness provided no detail in explaining how she arrived at her conclusions in the case at hand. The court held that the expert implicitly asked the jury to accept her expert opinion that the prints matched when she failed to provide an explanation of how she applied the general principles and methods to the specific case at hand.
  • Attorneys should be aware of the following cases involving fingerprint misidentification or fingerprint evidence used to exonerate:
    • Lana Canen case - Ms. Canen's 2005 murder conviction in IN was overturned in Nov. 2012 after she spent eight years in prison. A fingerprint that was a crucial piece of evdience in the prosecution's case against her was found not to be hers. An Arizona fingerprint expert discovered that a sheriff's detective misidentified a fingerprint found on a pill bottle in the victim's home.
    • Shirley McKie case - In 1997, Scottish police constable Shirley McKie's fingerprints were found at a crime scene that her department was investigating. After denying that she had ever been to the crime scene, she was found guilty of perjury and her reputation was ruined. It was determined in 1999 that the fingerprints were not hers and she was cleared of all charges.
    • George Allen case - Mr. Allen's 1983 rape and murder conviction in MO was reversed in Nov. 2012, though the state is appealing the reversal. In this case, it was discovered that there are seven usable fingerprints from the crime scene that do not match anyone involved, though police testified at trial that the fingerprints matched the victim, the victim's boyfriend, or the police office who responded to the scene.
    • Willie Grimes case - A three-judge panel in NC decided Mr. Grimes was innocent of a 1987 rape conviction for which he had served more than 24 years. Fingerprints from the crime scene did not match Grimes, but the State withheld that evidence until the trial. In 2011, the prints were uploaded into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System and there was a hit to the original suspect in the case.
    • Brandon Mayfield Case - In May 2004, the FBI arrested Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield based on an erroneous fingerprint identification. FBI analysts incorrectly identified a fingerprint left inside a plastic bag related to the Madrid train bombing as matching Mr. Mayfield.
    • If an attorney would like a list of additional fingerprint error cases for use in a motion, email Sarah Rackley Olson.
  • In cases where fingerprint evidence is the only evidence connecting the defendant to the crime, attorneys should consider the Irick rule. State v. Irick, 291 N.C. 480, 491-492 (1977) holds that "[f]ingerprint evidence, standing alone, is sufficient to withstand a motion for nonsuit only if there is 'substantial evidence of circumstances from which the jury can find that the fingerprints could only have been impressed at the time the crime was committed.'" Where the fingerprint was impressed upon an easily movable object, like a roll of duct tape, attorneys should consider both Irick and the Fourth Circuit opinion U.S. v. Strayhorn, 743 F.3d 917 (2014) which held that "a fingerprint on an easily moveable object with no evidence of when it was imprinted is sufficient to support a conviction only when it is accompanied by additional incriminating evidence..."
  • State of New Hampshire v. Richard Langhill - NH Supreme Court held that an ACE-V examiner cannot testify about the verification of the examination performed by a non-testifying examiner because it is inadmissible hearsay.
  • State v. Zajac, District Court for the District of Utah, Central Division
  • State v. Rudolph, Northern District of Alabama (Daubert jurisdiction)


Visit the database of experts to find the contact information for experts in this field.


  • Recent news articles - this page contains links to recent press coverage of local and national cases involving fingerprint evidence and is updated regularly. Click here for articles related to shoeprint evidence. Click here for articles related to tiremark evidence.
  • Simon Cole, More than Zero: Accounting for Error in Latent Fingerprint Identification, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol. 95, No. 3, 2005 - Comprehensive review of what is known about the potential error rate of latent print identification. Includes all known cases of fingerprint misattributions. Examines proficiency test data as well as the profession's and courts' efforts to minimize or dismiss fingerprint error. Click on the One-Click Download button to download the free full article.
  • Jacqueline McMurtrie, Sworls and Whorls: Litigating Post-Conviction Claims of Fingerprint Misidentification after the NAS Report, Utah Law Review, Vol 2010, No. 2. - addresses uniqueness, individualization and infallibility claims of fingerprint examination, the history of latent print individualization, recent legal challenges to latent print individualization, and the NAS report and its use in post-conviction claims based upon new developments in forensic science.
  • Michael Cherry and Edward Imwinkelried How we can improve the reliability of fingerprint identification, Judicature, Vol. 90, No. 2, 2006 - Describes the evolution of fingerprint identification in the United States and advocates for further research into the reliability of fingerprint identification, including the use of computer-based analysis to determine the best way to work with fingerprint data.


  • Inspector General's Report on the FBI Mayfield Error - A Review of the FBI's handling of the Brandon Mayfield case (March 2006). OIG focuses on the causes of the fingerprint misidentification in the Mayfield case and proposes possible solutions to prevent future fingerprint analysis errors.
  • BBC Radio investigative program (from Mar. 10, 2011) Looks at challenges to the reliability of fingerprint evidence, including bias. Includes coverage of the Brandon Mayfield case.


These videos may contain some inaccurate information, but they allow viewers to view the techniques and technologies used in fingerprint comparison.

  • Fingerprint evidence collection techniques - this website has videos demonstrating several techniques that are frequently used to develop and collect fingerprint evidence, including use of black powder, magnetic powder, Mikrosil and super glue fuming.
  • Analysis Basics - explains and demonstrates the ACE-V technique.