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Use of Fingerprints for Identification Featured

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Friction ridge skin impressions, otherwise known as fingerprints, have been in use for identification for several years in several cultures (Barnes, 2010). The earliest recorded use of fingerprints was in ancient Babylon where they were used for business transactions between 1000 and 2000 B.C. Subsequent uses of fingerprints were recorded in China and, then, in Persia. In China, Thumbprints to sign documents. In Persia, fingerprint impressions were used to sign government documents after a government doctor observed that no two fingerprints were exactly the same. Subsequent findings and uses of fingerprints were recorded in Italy, Prussia, Japan, England, and Wales.

However, the most prominent discoveries about the use of fingerprints for identification include the works of Galton, Herschel, and Faulds, considered the forefathers of fingerprint identification. Later, after the works of these pioneers, certain criminal cases were resolved using fingerprints. These court cases paved the way for the use of fingerprints for identification.

One such case is the 1892 Francisca Rojas case involving the brutal murder of two boys in an Argentinean village called Necochea, in Buenos Aires (Hutchins, 2011). Francisca Rojas, the mother of the boys, was also found with a cut on her throat. At first, the blame was placed on a man called Velasquez, a suitor of the mother of the children. The man was tortured but refused to confess to the murder. The people investigating the murder discovered a bloody fingerprint at the scene of the crime. The investigators contacted Juan Vucetich, an Argentine police official, who, at the time, was developing a fingerprint-based identification system. Juan Vucetich is an Argentine of Croatian origin, who migrated to Argentina in 1882. He worked at the police department of Buenos Aires. His work involved collecting statistics on arrests and crime. He then became the chief in the Office of identification. Vucetich made a comparison of the fingerprints of Velasquez and Francisca, the mother of the boys.

Rojas denied that she had touched the bodies of the boys (Barnes, 2010). However, Vucetich observed that the fingerprint found on the bloody bodies matched one of hers. With the discoveries of Vucetich, investigators confronted Rojas with the evidence. Francisca confessed to having murdered her two sons. It was discovered that she had cut her throat to deflect suspicion from herself. The Francisca Rojas case marked the first case of a successful use of fingerprints for identification in a criminal case. Following the successful outcome of the case, Vucetich improved the system of identification he was developing based on friction ridge skin impressions. Vucetich called his system “Comparative Dactyloscopy”. In 1993, the province of Buenos Aires adopted the fingerprint system. The system spread fast across Latin America and the Spanish-speaking world.

The use of fingerprints to establish the true murderer in the Rojas case is significant, particularly because it provided a promise of a solution to the mystery involving the murder crimes. The outcome of the investigation boosted the Vucetich’s system, which opened the ground for the modern systems of identification based on fingerprints. The system created by Vucetich was an expansion of patterns created by Galton. Galton created three patterns, i.e. the loop, the arch, and the whorl. Vucetich split the loop into two, making the total number of patterns be four, i.e. the whorl, internal loop, external loop, and arch. These four items are represented by four letters. In the same manner as Galton’s classification, the system created by Vucetich started with the right-hand thumb. The system ended with little finger of the left hand.

The concept of individualizing friction ridge as an infallible means of identification is traced to the history of man and the inherent need for men to individualize themselves in a world that is ever-expanding (Hutchins, 2011). As cities were growing with populations comprising people of different classes, crime also increased. The population in prisons and jails also increased as a consequence of increased interaction among vast numbers of people in urban places. The ability to identify criminals accurately was vital for the accuracy of the criminal justice system. In addition, there was a need to identify repeat offenders accurately. These reasons are the justification for the development of an effective method or system of identification of every individual. Vucetich’s identification of the true murderer of the two boys and his subsequent development and expansion of his system of identification paved a huge ground for the individualization of humans through fingerprint identification.

The journey that began in ancient Babylon with the use of fingerprint for business transactions has resulted in a concrete system used to individualize people. Fingerprint system of identification is the most accurate, cheap, and fast system of identification. Although, the system may not apply to the identification extreme cases such as identification of victims of fires or vehicle crashes that leaves no physical trace of victims, the system applies to the majority of cases.


Barnes, J.G. (2010). Fingerprint Sourcebook. Rockville, MD: National Institute of Justice

Hutchins, L.A. (2011). Systems of Friction Ridge Classification.

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