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Warren Commission Report: Page 563« Previous | Next »

(APPENDIX X - Expert Testimony)

FINGERPRINTS AND PALMPRINTS

Two experts gave testimony concerning fingerprints and palmprints: Sebestian Latona 102 and Arthur Mandella. 103 Latona is the supervisor of the Latent Fingerprint Section of the Identification Division of the FBI. He has been with that Division over 32 years, having begun as a student fingerprint classifier and worked up to his present position. Mandella is a detective and fingerprint instructor with the police department of the city of New York. He has been in the fingerprint field for 19 years. Both have made a vast number of fingerprint examinations and have testified in Federal, State, and military courts. 104 Their conclusions were identical, except as noted.

General Principles

Fingerprints and palmprints are made by the ridges which cover the surface of the fingers and palms. These ridges first appear 2 or 3 months before birth, and remain unchanged until death. Commission Exhibit No. 634-A (p. 564) illustrates several common characteristics or "points" formed by the ridges; a clear fingerprint impression will contain anywhere from 85 to 125 such points. While many of the common points appear in almost every print, no two prints have the same points in the same relationship to each other.


A print taken by a law-enforcement agency is known as an "inked print," and is carefully taken so that all the characteristics of the print are reproduced on the fingerprint card; a print which is left accidental]y, such as a print left at the scene of a crime, is known as a latent print. To make an identification of a latent print, the expert compares the points in the latent print with the points in an inked print. If a point appearing in a latent print does not appear in the inked print, or vice versa, the export concludes that the two prints were not made by the same finger or palm. An identification is made only if there are no inconsistencies between the inked and latent prints, and the points of similarity and their relative positions are sufficiently distinctive, and sufficient in number, to satisfy the expert that an identity exists. 106


There is some disagreement concerning whether a minimum number of points is necessary for an identification. Some foreign law-enforcement agencies require a minimum number of 16 points. However, in the United States, in which there has been a great deal of experience with fingerprints, export opinion holds there is no minimum number of points, and that each print must be evaluated on its own merits. 107


Palmprints are as distinctive as fingerprints, but are not as popularly known. Possibly this is because law enforcement agencies usually record only fingerprints for their identification files, since fingerprints can be much more readily classified and filed than palm-prints. Also, latent fingerprint impressions are probably more common than latent palmprint impressions, because persons generally touch objects with their fingers rather than their palms. However,

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