• A fingerprint impression identified as matching the fingerprint of an individual is circumstantial evidence that the individual came into contact with the surface upon which the print is impressed.
• A fingerprint thus permits an inference to be drawn linking the accused to an object or a place. However, the efficacy of fingerprint evidence to support the further inference that the accused committed the crime charged varies with the circumstances surrounding its impression.
• For more information about fingerprints, including the admissibility of fingerprints, please review Fingerprints.
Supporting the inference that the accused committed a theft or burglary
• When the principal evidence which establishes that [the defendant] committed the theft or burglary is latent fingerprints, sufficiency of the evidence is an important and difficult question. . . . [F]actors considered by this Court are legitimate access to the fingerprinted object, relocation of the object from its point of origin, and authorization to enter the dwelling or structure.
See Meehan v. State, 7 N.E.3d 255, 258 (Ind. 2014)(citing Mediate v. State, 498 N.E.2d 391, 393 (Ind. 1986))(“We also consider the defendant's legitimate access to the fingerprinted object, the relocation of the object from its point of origin, and the defendant's authorization to enter the dwelling or structure.”)
See also Chambers v. State, 551 N.E.2d 1154, 1156 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990)(citing Mediate v. State, 498 N.E.2d 391, 393 (Ind. 1986)(“A significant factor in determining the conclusiveness of a print is whether [the defendant] had legitimate access to the fingerprinted object.”)
• For more information about the offense of theft, please review Theft.
• For more information about the offense of burglary, please review Burglary.
Legitimate access to the fingerprinted object
• The preclusion of legitimate access to the object supports the inference that the fingerprints were not made in a lawful manner.
See Sansom v. State, 562 N.E.2d 58, 60 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990)(“[P]reclusion of legitimate access to the object upon which the fingerprint was found supports the inference that the fingerprint was not left in consequence of some lawful activity.”)
• When defendant’s fingerprint is found on an object which was never accessible to the public a reasonable inference arises that the print was made during the crime.
• When a fingerprint is found on an object located in a private dwelling but at one time accessible to the public, then defendant’s legitimate access to the object must be ruled out.
• Legitimate access is . . . precluded when the structure is open to the public but the object is located in an area restricted to authorized persons only.
Relocation of the object from its point of origin
• [A] defendant’s fingerprint on an object which had been moved during the commission of the offense creates a reasonable inference that the defendant left his print on the object when the crime was committed.
Authorization to enter the dwelling or structure
• The inference that defendant committed the crime is strengthened when a private residence is burglarized and he did not have the victim’s authorization to enter.
Insufficiency, in general, of merely finding a fingerprint
• [The defendant] contends that merely finding a fingerprint, identified as his, at the scene of a crime is insufficient to establish that he committed the offense. . . . We do not disagree with this contention.
See Curry v. State, 440 N.E.2d 687, 688 (Ind. Ct. App. 1982)(“The State cites several Indiana cases for the proposition that fingerprints found in the place where a crime was committed is sufficient proof of a burglar's identity. This is too sweeping a statement.”)
Fingerprints found at the point of entry of a burglary
• The only circumstances under which fingerprint evidence [i]s alone sufficient to sustain a conviction is when the print [i]s found at the point of entry.
• A fingerprint found at the point of entry is accorded substantial weight because of its direct relationship to the element of illegal entry.
• Fingerprints found near the point of entry on the interior of dwelling may be sufficient standing alone.
Chambers v. State, 551 N.E.2d 1154, 1156 (Ind. Ct. App. 1990)(citing Mediate v. State, 498 N.E.2d 391, 394 (Ind. 1986))(“[P]rints found near the point of entry inside a dwelling may be sufficient standing alone.”)
• [W]hen the location of the print does not readily indicate a forced or illegal entry, then additional evidence may be necessary to sustain the conviction.