Is fingerprints by itself enough for a conviction?
Breaking and entering cases are pretty common in Massachusetts. Whether its a break in involving a car or a house, many would say that breaking and entering incidents are on the rise. Some experts have said that the rise in opiate addiction has lead to an increase in theft, other are saying that better surveillance is leading to more people being caught for crimes.
Unlike 20 years ago there are cameras almost everywhere you look. No longer do people need a fancy security system or cameras set up by professionals. Now with technology being more affordable than ever, almost anyone can go online and buy a camera to place in their home or in the office. What is surprising is that there are still a lot of areas and homes that do not have the protection of alarms or cameras.
When there are no witness and cameras. Many times the only evidence of the suspect are fingerprints. I recently had a superior court trial where the only evidence of the defendant being the person of the breaking and entering was fingerprints. In that case, the court found that there was not enough evidence to prove the defendant guilty of breaking and entering.
So the question remains. Are fingerprints at a crime scene in itself enough to prove a crime occurred? It depends. I know that is a very lawyer thing to say, but the important thing is not if there are fingerprints at the scene. The important thing is if there is enough evidence to prove if the fingerprints were placed there at the time of the crime. Fingerprints if preserved in the right conditions can be on a surface for a long period of time. Therefore, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the fingerprints were placed when the crime happened.
In the case I tried in Superior Court, the defendant's fingerprints were found on two pieces of broken glass about 3 feet away from the building. The broken glass clearly seemed like it came from a broken window. I was able to show during the trial that the investigation was sloppy and incomplete. The police did not retain the piece of glass or take clear pictures, there was no reconstruction done on the window and no evidence gathered to prove which side of the glass the fingerprints were taken.
A fingerprint can be enough if the police combined with the prosecutor can paint a story that the defendant couldn't have left the prints at any other time but during the crime. Say if a defendant's fingerprints were found inside of a vault at a bank he doesn't work and the public has no right of access. The vault scenario would be a much stronger case against a defendant.
Just because the police find fingerprints does not mean it will lead to a conviction. Like many times, the result is often buried in the details.