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May 20, 2020 - BY Vaishnavi Hitendra Thakre

Challenges in Taking Fingerprint from Dead Body

Fingerprinting Deceased - How challenging it is?

The history of fingerprinting can be traced back to long before its use in criminal proceedings. Since many years fingerprints are widely being used as a reliable source of individual identification in criminal investigation and thus, it has its special importance in the field of forensic science.  From long time ago to till date it is referred to as most valuable evidence. 

The recording methodologies of fingerprints have shown considerable development. Initially the prints were recorded using normal printer inks. After that specialized fingerprint inks came into existence and till date they are being used with other advanced digital devices such as live fingerprint scanners.  

Common Challenges Faced

Recording fingerprints of a dead is not as easy as it is in case of a live person. There are several factors contributing to the recording to become challenging while dealing with a person who is dead. These factors include:

  • Stiffening of the fingers due to rigor mortis
  • Shrunken skin 
  • Decomposition 
  • Mummification of the body, etc.

It becomes difficult to record fingerprints in such circumstances. Thus, appropriate method with less challenges and better outcome needs to be adopted. 

What All Methods We Have?

  • Using conventional method of fingerprint ink to record prints could be useful but at times it becomes difficult to spread the ink or apply it on fingers thereby rolling them on a sheet especially in case of stiffened and mummified fingers. 
  • Inking can prove helpful if certain solutions such as Glycerinated Gelatin, Xylene, Sodium Hydroxide are used to normalize the skin before inking. Here, the cadaver spoon could be used for better recording of prints as it stabilizes and gives a firm support while recording prints. 
  • Although, fingerprint scanner gives best result, but its use is not practical in case of a dead person until and unless the scanner is portable. Hence, conventional methods used for live fingerprinting are not suitable for dead. Therefore, specialized ways are adopted to overcome the challenges. 

Which Method Can Be Conveniently Used?

The method that can be conveniently used is dusting black powder, which is normally used to develop latent fingerprint impressions at the scene of crime.  

  • What you require is the fingerprint powder, a small “camel hair” brush, fingerprint tape, white sheet/ clear fingerprint cards for pasting the collected print. 

What you need to do is:

  1. Dust the powder on to the finger and brush off the excess. 
  2. Cut the sheet into 10 small pieces for each finger 
  3. Take the tape and press it firmly against the finger (from center to outward) 
  4. Gently remove the tape and place it on a fingerprint card. 

Suggestion -  In case the fingers are overly wrinkled, casting can also be done. 

References:

  • Dclemens, and Dclemens. Crime & Clues, 31 Jan. 2013,crimeandclues.com/2013/01/31/fingerprinting-the-dead/.
  • “Fingerprinting the Deceased: Traditional and New Techniques.” ResearchGate,www.researchgate.net/publication/11890744_Fingerprinting_the_Deceased_Traditional_and_New_Techniques.