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Latent Fingerprint Development

The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office Forensic Laboratories recently added latent fingerprint development to provide an additional resource for determining positive identification of the deceased; and follows FBI guidelines for processing and developing latent prints.  

Fingerprints offer a powerful means of personal identification and still remain the most commonly used forensic evidence worldwide. No two individuals possess the same fingerprints. Because of this, fingerprints are an excellent means of identification. Moreover, while other visible human characteristics change – fingerprints do not change.  

At the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s Office, fingerprints are collected from deceased individuals and compared to known samples. Likewise, fingerprints are a quick and useful source for the identification of unknown decedents. An objective is for the technician to build a fingerprint card database for cases coming through the Medical Examiner’s office that can then be submitted for examination to a certified Latent Fingerprint Examiner to identify decedents.    

The development and collection of latent fingerprints can be useful in establishing if an individual was present at a crime scene or had possession of an item collected from a crime scene. Numerous physical and chemical methods exist for the development of latent fingerprints.     

Did you know that…

  • In 1686, Marcello Malpighi, a professor of anatomy at the University of Bologna, noted in his treatise, ridges, spirals, and loops in fingerprints. He made no mention of their value as a tool for individual identification. A layer of skin was named after him, "Malpighi" layer, which is approximately 1.8mm thick.
  • In 1903 The New York State Prison system began the first systematic use of fingerprints.
  • The largest AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) repository  in America is operated by the Department of Homeland Security's US Visit Program, containing over 90 million persons' fingerprints, many in the form of two-finger records.  The index finger records are non-compliant with FBI and Interpol standards, but sufficient for positive identification and valuable for forensics because index fingers are the most commonly identified crime scene fingerprints in U.S. for criminals. 

Links of interest

Criminal Justice Information Service  

Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System  

International Association for Identification (IAI)


Scott D. Flynn 
Evidence Technician/Fingerprint Technician
Phone: (216) 698-4061