Essay: DNA fingerprinting

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  • Subject area(s): Criminology essays
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  • Published on: March 23, 2018
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  • DNA fingerprinting
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DNA fingerprinting is the backbone of being able to secure a conviction of a guilty suspect and eliminate other possible suspects from being falsely convicted of a crime they did not commit. DNA fingerprinting is not only a modern advancement which shows that even before any technology arose humans were using their fingerprints to show uniqueness.
History of the fingerprint.

Dating back to 200BC, the people of China would use their fingerprints as stamps in clay when sealing documents of importance [1] which would signify the uniqueness of that document and the possibility to identify the individual whom has sent that document. Unfortunately, during 200BC China did not have the correct knowledge and research about fingerprints to really notice the vast potential it has to show true detail about ones identity.

Dr Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712)

The first scientist to officially release word about the possibilities a fingerprint can hold was called Dr Nehemiah Grew. On the 20th of January 1684 Dr Nehemiah Grew published a report in the London’s Royal Society [2] which includes information about the noticeable pores in hands and feet, including details regarding certain ridge patterns “of equal bigness and distance” [2]. Although the report published did not contain much information about the possible uses of fingerprints in criminal cases, Dr Nehemiah Grew began a spark in the field of fingerprinting which led to further research to lead to the stance we are in in the modern day.

Jan Evangelista Purkinje (1787-1869)

Next in line to research more about DNA fingerprinting is an anatomist and physiologist called Jan Evangelista Purkinje. He published his research called “Commentatio de examine physiologico organi visus et syjstematis cutanei” in 1823 [3] which included all of his findings from various research regarding fingerprints. The main aspect of the research Purkinje conducted was how he observed a total of nine different fingerprint formations which began to outline information which was previously unknown.

As visible in the illustration to the left, each fingerprint has a different pattern which shows some sort of unique classification. Therefore, Purkinje became the first person to create a system for classifying fingerprints. Some of the pattern types Purkinje had mentioned are also being used in the modern world, which shows his research was truly successful.

Sir William James Herschel (1833-1917)

Slowly creeping towards the 20th century of DNA fingerprinting was Sir William James Herschel, whom was the first to mention about the use of friction ridges in individual identification. Herschel was not a scientist; however, his initiative was classed as the first move towards DNA fingerprinting to be used in criminal cases. Herschel used palm prints to identify the people who worked for him in India, so when it came to payday he knew who his employees were as their palm print would match the palm print Herschel had in his records. [4]

After the incident of the palm print spiked further interest, Herschel began to research more about the peculiar shapes and swirls, specifically, of the finger. Soon enough Herschel noticed fingerprints do not change over time, and so began to wonder what fingerprints could be used for. It was not only until after Herschel had died that his research was used by other scientists to form the basis of fingerprinting in crime.

Henry Faulds (1843-1930)

Henry Faulds was a physician and scientist who reviewed the work of fingerprints and elaborated more on friction ridges. Faulds had summarised that these friction ridges which form a fingerprint are unique in every individual which makes them classifiable to a certain person to solve a certain crime. [5] The theory which Faulds describes about fingerprints moved their use from administrative work, as seen in Sir William James Herschel’s research, to forensic application in identifying criminals using powders to form visible fingerprints from latent fingerprints and then comparing these to the suspected criminal(s).

Alphonse Bertillon (1853-1914)

Bertillon was a young police officer with a passion for orderliness which his job as a records clerk highly demanded. Bertillon devised his own method for sorting out the records of the different inmates and criminals he came across; this method became known as the bertillonage; named after Bertillon himself. Bertillonage included records of physical measurements of a criminals physiological features, such as the head, body, including shapes of ears, eyes, mouth, nose, forehead, chin, length of forearm, hand and fingers. Each record would then relate to one individual and the measurements Bertillon recorded would be unique to that one person. [6][7] One main issue with the work of Bertillon is the apparatus required for the measurements as they would always need re-calibration and constant maintenance to ensure the measurements which are being taken are the most accurate they can be to successfully identify an individual.

Consequently, the police force began to disuse bertillonage as a method to identify criminals and began to prefer the use of fingerprinting, which was developed more concretely due to the work of Edward Henry whom based much of his own research on the research of Bertillon.

Edward Henry (1850-1931)

Edward Henry was undeniably the most crucial stage to the modern version of DNA fingerprinting. Henry formed the basis of DNA fingerprinting to be used in criminal convictions. Henry’s research was focused mainly on the findings and research of Alphonse Bertillon, as previously mentioned, as Henry took the theory and adapted it to suit fingerprinting. In 1887, Henry introduced his classification system in a comparison with bertillonage, shortly after in 1900 the Henry classification system replaced bertillonage due to its pioneering theory. [7]

The Henry classification system included each fingerprint pattern (Arch, Whorl or Loop) to be compared to each other across all 10 fingers. The system worked by having the criminals fingerprints inked onto paper which includes identification of that specific criminal. [8][9] Meanwhile, this method of recording fingerprints is still being used over 115 years later in the 21st century, in fact, this method is one of the main ways a criminal conviction can be guaranteed which shows how important and pioneering the work of Edward Henry became!

20th Century

All of the research conducted by Edward Henry was so successful that in 1901 the first fingerprint bureau was established in New Scotland Yard which used the Henry classification system to match and eliminate possible suspects supposedly engaged in criminal activity. [1]

Shortly after the establishment of the fingerprint bureau came the first conviction based on fingerprint evidence in 1902 whereby a man named Harry Jackson was found guilty of burglary and thereby sentenced to seven years imprisonment. [10] Nevertheless this conviction was only possible due to the comparison of the fingerprints left at the crime scene with the fingerprints the bureau had in possession at the time, however there was a match and the fingerprints belonged to Harry Jackson.

Since the Harry Jackson case in 1902 there have been millions of people convicted of criminal activity due to the breakthrough of DNA fingerprinting.

Another example of conviction from fingerprints are the Stratton brothers. Similarly to the Harry Jackson case, the Stratton brothers were the first to be convicted of murder based on fingerprint evidence in court. The police found a fingerprint at the crime scene nearby two dead bodies, however it did not match any fingerprint records at the bureau as the Stratton brothers had no past criminal convictions, so the police had to begin asking for witnesses. One witness said they recognised one of the two brothers at the scene as Alfred Stratton which then sparked interest to bring them in for questioning. Whilst the brothers were being questioned they both had their fingerprints taken which was then compared to the fingerprint found at the crime scene and it was a match.

Shortly after the Stratton brothers were convicted and hanged for murder. [11]

Between the first conviction using fingerprints in 1902 and 1952 there was not much change to the way convictions based on fingerprint evidence would be recorded and used in court. As a result, 50 years later, some changes were implemented by The Home Office which stated that for fingerprint evidence to be valid in court there must be 16 unique characteristics [12] which match between the fingerprint found at the crime scene and the fingerprint of the suspect in order for a conviction to be considered.

21st Century

Since the 20th century fingerprint evidence has been more commonly used, sometimes when there are no witnesses, and no other form of evidence other than a fingerprint left behind at a crime scene a conviction can still be made solely based on the fingerprint.

Due to the ever increasing use of technology most fingerprints are now stored on a computer database rather than on ink and paper. Fingerprints are also followed up by facial records and iris biometric records [1] to ensure an individual is fully documented in case of any future altercations.

In 2017 an organisation in India called AADHAAR issues a 12-digit number unique to each person which contains scans of their fingerprints, iris, and face, as well as other information such as name, age, gender and address. [13] AADHAAR is so popular in India that over 1,187,716,115 [14] people have registered and received an AADHAAR number.

Currently, the organisation which runs the AADHAAR program has the most fingerprints, iris and faces documented and secured in their database than any other organisation, society or bureau in the world.

During the modern day within the UK, if a person is to be taken into custody they will automatically have their fingerprints and eyes scanned and stored into the national database of fingerprints and iris scans which enables police forces to eliminate a certain person from being a suspect in a court case.

The machines used to make this possible are called Optical Fingerprint Scanners. [15] They have a slide of glass on which the fingers are placed, under the glass is a light source and a digital scanner, similar to a photocopier. The scanner will then take an extremely detailed and clear picture of the individuals fingerprints which have been placed upon the glass and portray the digital version on a computer.

Moreover, this image of the fingerprint can then be stored in a database to be used as a comparison to any fingerprints found at the scene of the crime.

A much more recent example of how useful DNA fingerprinting is used within the modern day society is when a young gentleman called Raja Ali was stabbed to death by a gang of six others in June of 2017. A statement states “A fingerprint found on the driver’s door of the victim’s blue Renault Megane was a match for Jalo.” [16] Which shows how a member of the gang which killed Raja Ali was convicted as they found a fingerprint which matched Jalo’s fingerprints at the scene of the murder.

Fingerprints are not only used to convict criminals, however they can also be used to release falsely convicted criminals. One case where this was apparent was when a woman called Lana Canen was imprisoned for 8 years for the murder of a blind 94 year old [17] before being released due to the fingerprints found at the scene concluded to not match those of Lana Canens.

This finding ultimately led to the release of Lana Canen.

Reference List:

[1] (Accessed 10/11/2017)

[2] (Accessed 09/11/2017)

[3] (Accessed 09/11/2017)

[4] (Accessed 10/11/2017)

[5] (Accessed 10/11/2017)

[6] (Accessed 10/11/2017)

[7] (Accessed 10/11/2017)

[8] (Accessed 10/11/2017)

[9] (Accessed 10/11/2017)

[10] (Accessed 10/11/2017)

[11] (Accessed 10/11/2017)

[12] Mallett, X., Blythe, T. and Berry, R. (2014). Advances in forensic human identification. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, pp.305-307.

[13] (Accessed 10/11/2017)

[14] (Accessed 10/11/2017)

[15] (Accessed 10/11/2017)

[16] (Accessed 10/11/2017)

[17] (Accessed 10/11/2017)

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