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Don't Count on Your Fingerprints

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 1990
The problem of missing fingerprints is serious in Pennsylvania, since the State's criminal justice system relies on accurate criminal history records for appropriate sentencing.

About one-third of all judicial dispositions received by the State Police have no matching arrest record to which the disposition can be posted. Fortunately, however, the rate of missing fingerprints is highest for cases in which the offense is least serious. To evaluate the extent of missing fingerprint problem and devise corrective strategies, data were obtained from 6 Pennsylvania police departments, and a survey was mailed to 390 randomly-selected police departments throughout the State. It was found that 15,000 convictions per year are not recorded in the State's criminal history file due to missing prints. Police officers often have severe difficulty in fingerprinting violent, belligerent, and intoxicated defendants. Electronic fingerprinting, currently being tested as an alternative to ink, offers some promise in printing uncooperative defendants. Another problem is that court proceedings initiated by summons instead of arrest do not provide police with an appropriate means of obtaining fingerprints. Further, district justices do not typically consider fingerprinting to be their responsibility, aside from retail theft cases. Since fingerprints and criminal history records are important components of the sentencing process, serious consideration should be given by the judiciary to accepting more responsibility for obtaining fingerprints. Delays and incompleteness in posting dispositions from the court system to arrest records should be minimized or eliminated. 6 notes and 7 figures.

Date Published: September 1, 1990