Ear Print Analysis (World of Forensic Science)
Ear print analysis is far more popular as a means of forensic identification in Europe than it is in the United States. The European Commission, a scientific arm of the European Union, has launched a program aimed at setting the worldwide standard for ear print analysis and identification research. The assumption among members of the EU forensic science community is that forensic analysis of ear prints is more economical than that of DNA profiling. It is also thought to be more reliable in legal proceedings, as it is virtually impossible to either tamper with, or accidentally leave at a crime scene, an ear print.
When a human ear is pressed against a surface, materials present on the ear's surface (waxes, skin oils, etc.) are left behind, forming a two-dimensional "ear print." Each ear print is believed to contain specific and individual (unique) anatomical markers, which can be used both to distinguish it from others found at the crime scene, and to compare it to other ear prints on file in forensic databases as a means of identifying suspects or linking crimes/crime scenes, much like occurs with DNA profiling at present. It is also possible to take ear prints from suspects under laboratory conditions (akin to those used for fingerprint or serological DNA testing and analysis), and compare those prints to ear prints recovered during the crime scene investigation. It is believed that ear prints are unique to each individual adult, and are considered difficult to tamper with (fingerprints can sometimes be altered).
It is not uncommon for a perpetrator to put an ear to a door or window prior to entering a crime scene in an effort to determine whether the area is occupied, or for an ear print to be left against a wall or other hard surface during a struggle or when a body is being positioned or moved. This evidence can be collected at the crime scene, using methods analogous to those used for the lifting of fingerprints. A benefit to the collection of ear prints along with other crime scene evidence is in its use as confirmatory data: the legal system typically requires two different types of corroborative evidence in order to confirm placement of a suspect at a crime scene. While it is possible to "plant" fingerprints or even DNA material, it is difficult to intentionally place an ear print, particularly before ear prints become a common form of forensic identification, at a crime scene.
At present, there is a paucity of scientific evidence supporting the use of ear prints in forensic investigations. There has not been incontrovertible research evidence that ear prints are unique to each individual; there is a lack of systematization in the collection and analysis of ear print data; and there has not been widespread development or usage of automated ear print matching technology. These issues are being addressed via the European Union's FEARID program, spearheaded by Cornelius van der Lugt at the ICR in the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom's National Training Centre for Scientific Support to Crime Investigation's systematic collection of ear prints in an effort to establish a comprehensive research-based database that is sufficiently large to be able to address the issue of uniqueness.
SEE ALSO Anthropometry; Crime scene investigation; DNA profiling; Evidence; Impression evidence.