Palmar Flexion Crease Identification
Precedent Trial Testimony
(The following article is reprinted from the Apr.--June 1996 issue of the T.D.I.A.I. newsletter.)
By JAMES G. CRON
A recent homicide in Texas created an opportunity for trial testimony regarding the identification of a bloody latent palm print on a sheet with a suspect's inked palm print based on palmar flexion creases. This article was submitted because no documentation of prior testimony relating to palmar flexion creases as a means of identification could be located. Such court testimony apparently is limited or nonexistent in Texas or even America. Perhaps a TD--IAI member might be aware of such a court case.
Palm creases as a viable method of personal identification have been the subject of research, study and technical papers. Therefore, I chose to forgo writing a thesis which would only echo outstanding research authors. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. David R. Ashbaugh, Canada, quite adequately made the case for the acceptance of palm creases as being identifiable (1) . B.C. Bridges, on the individuality of human characteristics, stated, �This complex creature is quite different from all his fellows, and is recognizable as such. Furthermore, he is certain to display much of the individuality stamped on his exterior, just as a bottle is labeled. This is easy to understand, since every form taken by matter suggests at least some of it's latent elements. Thus, common sense would insist that the patterns in the human skin, like other features of the anatomy, must inevitably reveal not only hereditary influences, but also more intimate descriptive indications with every individual� (2).
The similarities between palm creases and friction ridges are many. They form during fetal life, originate in the dermis, and never change until decomposition after death. They differ from person to person, even from finger--sole--palm on the same person. Both can be classified based on primary and sub--groups, yet all groups are not necessarily present in all fingers--soles--palms. Both are identified by observing that two impressions have characteristics of similar shapes which
occur in the same relative positions in both impressions. Palms and fingers can contain temporary creases which are not considered points of comparison or identification. The permanency, individuality and classifiable properties of palm creases and friction ridges have been studied as a means of human identification since the 1800's. Neither have been proven unreliable as a form of identification.
Forensic identification specialists have accepted the individual uniqueness of friction ridges, DNA, fingernail striations, eye retina patterns, friction ridge pores (poroscopy), friction skin edges (edgeology), stripes on animals (example: zebras), animal nose patterns (example: dogs) and even creases on lips (3) and feet (3) . It is inconceivable that palmar flexion creases are the only human marker not individual, when all other markers have been accepted as valid means of identification.
In 1958, when I began my career in the field of identification, it was stressed that �creases� were not points of identification. All emphasis was placed on friction ridges. Creases in the palm were considered simply reference points and although mentioned in texts were still in a state of study. The creases latent examiners were taught to avoid were those described by Sir E.R. Henry in 1900. Concerning those creases and permanent palm creases he wrote, �In addition to the creases which are permanent, such as those marking the divisions between the phalanges of the fingers and those on the palm caused by the doubling up of the hand, creases not permanent may appear on the bulbs of the fingers� (4).
It is these temporary transient creases, which are not part of the individualization process, that an examiner must avoid during comparisons. The permanent creases are the true �points of comparison.�
It is my opinion that palmar flexion (palm flex) creases can be used in the identification process. Since the late 19th century, both intentionally and by chance, the research and development of friction ridges as a means of personal identification has paralleled that of palm creases due to their similarity in intrauterine formation and proximity to one another on human skin. Palm crease individuality has been with us all the time, but just recently has been recognized and understood.
THE FRYE TEST
The defendant's attorney did not object to or challenge the palm crease testimony by citing the Frye case, but could in his appeal. The Frye case originally pertained to the inadmissibility of polygraph test results (5). Yet, in recent trials it has been invoked contesting the introduction of testimony utilizing new procedures or methods, as occurred in the early 1980's regarding finger nail striations. It addresses the issue of when a scientific principle or discovery crosses the line between the experimental and demonstrable stages. Some later rulings on the Frye issue held that new theories/methods are admissible if the expert witness lays a foundation for his opinion and explains what accepted principles of analysis he used. And, even though all experts in a certain field are not aware of a scientific principle it does not mean the principle is invalid.
Being a recent case and subject to appeal, I have omitted names, dates and locations pending the appellate court's ruling. After the conviction and palm crease identification testimony is ruled on by the court, case law will have been established and can be quoted. I will then draft another report and submit it to the TD--IAI newsletter, giving names, complete case history and cite the case number.
During the spring of 1995, in Sulphur Springs, Texas, the body of a 19 year old female was found in her apartment. She had literally been butchered. It was one of the worst dismemberment homicides I had seen in 37 years. Without going into graphic detail, the victim had been stabbed, mutilated and dissected with several weapons. Knives, razor blades and forks were used. Numerous body parts and organs were removed. Some were placed in her throat, along with part of the weapons. Not all severed or removed parts and organs were located. Initials were carved in her back. The attack took place on her bed.
The Sulphur Springs Police Department began a comprehensive crime scene investigation. They were assisted by the Texas Rangers, Dallas County Sheriff's Department, The Dallas County Medical Examiner/Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences and others. They collected physical evidence which eventually led to the 27 year old defendant, an ex--boy friend of the victim. Some of the major evidence consisted of the victim's blood (DNA) on his clothing, his hair on the victim, his latent fingerprint in her blood on the apartment's window blind adjustment rod and the bloody latent palm print with the creases. I was asked to compare the palm latent with the defendant's palm.
The latent was a bloody palm print on a sheet where the victim had been lying. There were no friction ridges present in the print, but the palmar flexion creases were exceptionally detailed and discernable.
Using crease terminology suggested by Ashbaugh (1), the creases present in the bloody latent and the defendant's left palm were major palmar flexion creases, minor flexion creases, secondary flexion creases and finger creases. There were sufficient random formed creases in conjunction with the major flexion creases to form an opinion that the defendant's left palm made the bloody palm print on the sheet.
I prepared a court exhibit of the unknown and known palm prints. The similar characteristics were charted, depicting both possible hereditarily influenced creases and individual creases formed at random. Also, a demonstrative exhibit was constructed to acquaint the jury with the differences in flexion creases as they vary from palm to palm. Fifty left palm prints of individuals selected by chance were mounted beside the defendant's left palm print.
Prior to testifying I met with the Hopkins County District Attorney's office to acquaint them with this less than common type of identification. During the trial they allowed me to conduct a mini--school for the benefit of the jury. Their direct and re--direct examination questions were outstanding. The jury deliberated for 15 minutes. The defendant received a life sentence. As stated, the conviction has been appealed.
The acceptance of scientific evidence and/or scientific principle in a court of law is a milestone in the establishment of the evidence or principle as fact, not theory. Case law, along with study and research, aided in proving friction ridges, DNA and other forms of identification valid. The same is true of palm flex creases.
The challenge to identification professionals is to study and research the material available on the subject. An examiner must understand the difference between temporary creases, permanent creases, creases which have a heredity tendency (class characteristics) and randomly formed creases (individual characteristics). A rush to make an identification could result in an error. The comparison and identification of palmar flexion creases is no simple matter and should be employed with caution.
A comparison or verification of an identification should be solicited from another qualified individual. A certified latent print examiner with almost two decades experience concurred with my opinion regarding this case.
If anyone has knowledge of prior palmar flexion crease court testimony, please let me know.
1. Ashbaugh, D.R., �Palmar Flexion Crease Identification�. Journal of Forensic Identification, 41 (4) 1991, p 271--272.
2. Bridges, B.C., �Practical Fingerprinting�, Funk & Wagnalls, New York
and London, 1942,
3. Williams, T.R., �Lip Prints--Another Means of Identification�, Journal of Forensic Identification, 41 (3) 1991, p 191.
4. Henry, Sir E.R., �Classification and Uses of Fingerprints�, Her Majesty's Stationary Office, London, 1900,1934, p 201.
5. Frye v United States, 293 Fed. 1013, 1014 (D.C. Cir. 1923)
For more information contact the author:
P.O. Box 2135
Wylie, TX 75098
This article was reprinted in �THE PRINT�
Volume 13(6) November/December 1997, pp 1-3
and has been obtained from the online library provided by the
Southern California Association of Fingerprint Officers