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Fingerprint Identification

By:  Woodnick Law, PLLC

Fingerprint identification is perhaps the most important and well-known form of biometrics. Virtually everyone understands the basics: fingerprints are unique to each individual and contain markers that can be used to compare samples and identify the person responsible for leaving a fingerprint mark with substantial reliability. Although not always as “cut and dry” as they appear in crime dramas, fingerprints are a steady tool of law and a source of many interesting scenarios.

Years ago, I represented a client in a dependency matter. The situation was complicated because the child was a teenager whose behavior was out of control. The parents, divorced but able to work together to raise their three children, were at the end of their rope with their 14-year-old, who had been diagnosed with fingerprintsOppositional Defiance Disorder.

CPS, now known as DCS, got involved at their beckoning. The child ultimately received treatment while in CPS care and now, many years later, is a successful adult with an associate’s degree and a good job.

Fast forward to the present day: my client had a chance to take a position at a school district. His position was not academic, but the district did require that he submit a fingerprint card. His clearance was denied and he was on the precipice of losing this job opportunity because his fingerprints were tied to the old DCS case. As a result of DCS involvement those many years ago, my client had been placed on the Central Registry – a list of names of individuals who have DCS reports, typically the names of parents who have abused children.

Fortunately, my client had options. There is an administrative process overseen by a administrative law judge where we had the chance to address the issue.

First, we argued that there is a good cause for the Board to consider approving the card as the incident occurred long ago and, in this case, placement on the Registry was more perfunctory than anything. This was not a parent who intentionally abused his child.

Second, there are exceptions to the Central Registry clearance rules in some limited circumstances. In theory, a person who has had a “substantiation” on their record and in the database with CPS/DCS can nonetheless request a finding bypassing the registration.

In considering whether an exception to the fingerprint clearance requirement was necessary, I was reminded of a doctor we represented many years ago.  He was a retired surgeon who, by life’s circumstances, was going to be raising his step-grandchild. The statute required that he be fingerprinted. His prints would not take. He went to the police department on two separate occasions but there were only able to produce blotches with limited identifiable loci (the fingerprint markers used for comparing samples and identifying fingerprints).  It turns out that, after years of scrubbing in for surgeries multiple times a day, the ridges in his prints were dulled to the point of being flat and he was unprintable.

In that situation, we were fortunate enough to have an understanding judge who helped us make a good cause exception to the rule. Fingerprints can be a tricky field to navigate, especially involving cases of child custody.



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