Physical evidence items in a theft case are the real, physical objects that are collected and introduced as evidence if the case goes to court. Any item that might be important to the case can be collected and documented as physical evidence.
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From personal clothing to the objects taken, physical evidence is an important piece to both sides of the case. What role is played by fingerprint evidence in theft cases? Fingerprints are considered physical evidence, but are they reliable to use for a theft case?
How Fingerprints Are Collected
The ridges on our fingertips mix with body oil and dirt to produce a print pattern that can be left behind on any smooth surfaces we touch. So when an alleged theft has occurred, it is common for law enforcement to check for fingerprints at the scene. Fingerprint experts dust surfaces with powders and chemicals to make the prints show, as many fingerprints are invisible.
When the print is lifted from the surface, computers can enhance any missing ridges to create a fully identifiable print. Even if only tiny portions of a print are retrieved, lasers and computers can work to re-build and create a print for the purpose of evidence.
Using Fingerprints As Evidence in Theft Cases
Law enforcement often will collect fingerprints from a theft crime scene, and then use fingerprint evidence in theft convictions. Using fingerprints to identify defendants is based on two principles:
- A person’s fingerprint ridge patterns do not change over their lifetime.
- No two people have the same pattern of ridges
Not even identical twins have the same fingerprints. With millions of fingerprints on file, law enforcement officials can run patterns against all the collected prints to search for a match.
You don’t have to be a convicted criminal to have your prints in the system. Many employers require fingerprints, as do some schools. If you have offered your prints for any reason, they are likely stored and available for search in a theft case.
Questioning the Reliability of Fingerprints
If you are accused of theft based on fingerprint evidence, there are many reasons to question the reliability of the prints. Science has taken great strides in helping law enforcement collect prints. However, science has also given attorneys reasons to question the validity of fingerprint evidence in theft cases in Texas. Some of these reasons include:
- Disagreement on Matching Prints. Some experts recommend a 12-point match, while others look for 20 common points to confirm a fingerprint match.
- Computer Enhancement. Partial prints are re-built with computer and laser technology. This enhancement can be questioned for accuracy and bias.
- Age of Prints. The age of fingerprints is almost impossible to determine. Without a time stamp, prints can’t place a person at the crime scene during the alleged theft.
- Losing Faith. Over the last decade, many cases of poor fingerprint evidence have dimmed the light on using prints for proving guilt.
Frequently Asked Questions About Theft Charges in Texas
What are the penalties for a theft offense in Texas?
Generally speaking, the punishment for a conviction on a theft charge will depend on the value of the items taken and any prior criminal history associated with the defendant. Penalties can range from a $500 fine to imprisonment of up to 99 years.
What should I do if I have been accused of theft in Texas?
If you have been accused of any kind of theft crime in Texas, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A good attorney can help to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the legal process and that you receive fair treatment under the law.
What is the statute of limitations for theft charges in Texas?
In Texas, the statute of limitations for theft charges depends on the specific type of theft charge. Generally, the statute of limitations is two to five years from the date of the alleged offense. However, some more serious types of thefts may have a longer statute of limitations period.
Fighting Fingerprint Evidence in a Theft Case in Houston
Are you being charged with a theft offense supported by fingerprint evidence in Houston, Texas? While TV police dramas may have you believe a fingerprint means certain conviction, the truth is that fingerprint evidence in theft cases is not the final say in any criminal case.
For more than 20 years, Houston theft attorney Lisa Shapiro Strauss has represented many adults who have been accused of crimes. She can help you, too. Contact the law offices of Lisa Shapiro Strauss today for a free consultation to discuss your case.