“I know they don’t have my fingerprints…I’m ok…right?” Do police and the prosecutor need your fingerprints to charge and convict you with crime in Pennsylvania or New Jersey
Our criminal defense lawyers often receive question about fingerprint evidence. Most people associate fingerprints with criminal investigations and popular TV shows like NCIS, CSI, and Law & Order are based on forensic investigation catching criminals who believed they committed the perfect crime. Many of these television dramas focus on DNA evidence such as fingerprints identification or dactyloscopy.
What is dactyloscopy?
Dactyloscopy compares two instances (impressions) of fingerprints to determine whether those two impressions came from the same individual. Fingerprints are ridge skin impressions from a person’s hands or feet. Every person’s skin impressions are different so everyone has a unique set of fingerprints. In theory, fingerprints or the lack of fingerprints should be a critical piece of evidence in any criminal investigation.
If a person’s fingerprints are at the crime scene, most people think that should mean a person committed the felony or the misdemeanor crime. So no fingerprints would mean that a person didn’t commit the crime and either shouldn’t be charged or acquitted …right? This, however, is simply not true. I am sorry to disappoint the fans of NCIS, CSI, or the latest criminal investigation drama.
Do no fingerprints mean no case for the prosecution?
A lack of fingerprints will not always end a criminal investigation or lead to the dismissal of criminal charges. It’s often difficult to obtain fingerprints from some surfaces, especially firearms. The ability to lift fingerprints from a surface (latent fingerprints) is really based on the type of surface. It’s much easier to lift latent fingerprints from smooth surfaces such as glass, tile, porcelain, lacquered furniture and some smooth clean metals. The process, however, gets more difficult, when we move to painted surfaces, leather, paper and cardboard.
Getting fingerprints is even harder for organic surfaces such as fabrics, trees and non-organic textured surfaces such as checkered handgun grips. Many investigations for gun crimes focus on lifting prints from these firearms.
Obtaining latent fingerprints from guns and other firearms is often, however, very difficult. It’s hard because these firearms, especially, ones used in crimes, are often oily, extremely dirty surfaces with multiple overlapping impressions smeared by movement. The fact that the prosecution can’t present fingerprint evidence doesn’t mean their case isn’t strong.
The prosecution can meet its burden of proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt with direct and circumstantial evidence. Prosecutors and district attorneys, in these situations, will also normally present an expert who can explain the lack of fingerprint evidence. Obviously fingerprints can help a criminal prosecution but their existence doesn’t mean the case is a loser for the defense.
What if the prosecution has your fingerprints? Does it mean game over?
Just like the prosecution’s expert can explain away the lack of fingerprints, a good defense expert can explain away their existence. Either way, fingerprints are never “dispositive” in a criminal or even a civil case. In other words fingerprints, won’t instantly win or lose the case for either side. Remember TV shows and movies are great but if you are charged with a crime don’t think fingerprints will sink you or set you free.
What Are the Most Common Gun Crimes In Pennsylvania?
Fingerprints or lack of fingerprints can be an important part of any criminal case, especially one involving possession of an illegal gun or firearm in Pennsylvania or New Jersey.
The most common gun charges in Pennsylvania are Violations of Section 6105, Section 6106, and Section 6110.2 of the Uniform Firearms Act (Title 18, Chapter 61, Section 6101). Section 6105 is the possession of a firearm by a person prohibited by law. Section 6106 is the possession of a firearm by a person without a license. Section 6110.2 is the possession of a firearm which has an obliterated or altered manufacture’s serial number. Section 6108 (Illegal carrying a gun or firearms on the Streets of Philadelphia) is a Misdemeanor Offense.
What you need to know about illegal guns in New Jersey. How is New Jersey different from Pennsylvania?
The state of New Jersey maintains some of the nation’s toughest gun laws regarding the unlawful possession of a handgun or firearm. The Garden State even maintains very strict regulations with regards to the lawful carrying of firearms within its boundaries. Unlike Pennsylvania, New Jersey maintains mandatory minimum sentencing for the unlawful possession of a handgun. New Jersey, like New York is a may issue state. Pennsylvania is a “shall issue state” and I encourage you to read my article on this issue for more information on it. You may also want to check out my book in the free download section—What Everyone Should Know About Guns, Drugs, & Defense Lawyers in Pennsylvania
New Jersey’s Policy on Illegal Guns – Jail not probation
New Jersey’s approach to illegal handguns and firearms is the “promise of imprisonment”, rather than rehabilitation. In 1983, the New Jersey Supreme Court in State v. Des Martes, stated if a person is convicted of a crime against another while using or possessing a firearm in state, that person will go to prison for at least 3 years.” The law now in New Jersey calls for a mandatory 42 month state prison.
The New Jersey Legislature amended the Graves Act in 2013 to increase the mandatory minimum term to the greater of one half or one third of the base term which equals 42 months. The goal of the Graves Act is deterrence through widespread knowledge that one who is convicted of using or possessing a firearm while committing a crime will not escape a mandatory minimum jail sentence!
For more questions about criminal defense, read one of my books, watch my videos or read my monthly newsletter. All available on the website.
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