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COLUMN: New technology can greatly improve sexual assault prosecutions



Fingerprint technology is changing exponentially. Soon, we will be able to determine drug usage, condom usage, gender and even specific brands of hair gel from a single set of fingerprints from a suspect. 

Sheffield Hallam University and the West Yorkshire Police Department in the United Kingdom have been working together to finalize the technology that will change high-stakes crime cases. 

This development is incredibly technologically progressive and will be a huge help to the criminal justice system. 

In recent years, forensic departments and courtrooms alike have been more wary about placing absolute certainty in fingerprint technology. The issues lie in the possibility of nabbing two partial fingerprints that are identical, indicating a "match," while the whole print may be unique. 

Technology that could better assess fingerprints doesn't exist, but this new U.K. development may be able to do so. 

Mass spectrometry is the method forensic scientists use to break down fingerprints to find the chemical makeup that makes them unique. 

Dr. Simona Francese is leading the research project to finalize the technology and put it into effect. She broke down the process to better explain how forensics can find these identifying traits. 

"When you think about what a fingerprint is, it's nothing else but sweat, and sweat is a biological matrix," she said. "It contains molecules from within your body but also molecules that you have just contaminated your fingertips with, so the amount of information there potentially to retrieve is huge."

This chemical-detecting technology would still require a full print to get the whole story behind a fingerprint, but for those officers who can find a full print, they would have more evidence to find perpetrators for crimes such as rape, murder and burglary.

Even though fingerprinting technology won’t be perfect, this is still an amazing development because it will help provide proof that may otherwise be missing in cases.

For example, in rape cases, it’s hard to prosecute a rape kit if the rapist wore a condom

However, if there are fingerprints left anywhere at the crime scene, forensic scientists would be able to use this new technology to determine whether the rapist wore a condom. 

Rapists have begun wearing condoms to avoid getting STDs, impregnating their victims and leaving behind DNA in their semen.

The fingerprint can help in cases in which the rapist is already in the system or the victim knew who raped them and more proof was needed to convict him.

Also, the fingerprints can prove alcohol and drug usage. If a victim believes he or she was drugged, the U.K. technology could determine, using the set of fingerprints, whether or the alleged rapist touched a date rape drug.

This new practice can, hopefully, make a difference in the process of prosecuting high class crimes.

If this can help a few victims find peace of mind, then it is more than worth the effort that has gone into researching and testing the technology.

mmgarbac@indiana.edu

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