Lip Prints: The Underestimated Identifiers in the Combat against Crime


  • Marc Welgemoed



Lip prints, body-prints, Cheiloscopy, lip traces, fingerprints, probative value, identification of suspects, DNA extraction


Crime is prevalent in our modern society and there does not appear to be an escape from it. It is not restricted to particular sections of the world, but occurs all over the globe. Through the years, excellent progress has been made in crime-combating methodologies and technologies; yet, there does not seem to be an ideal deterrent to crime. It is therefore paramount that the criminal justice system is equipped with the best possible tools to accurately identify and bring offenders to justice. A method that has crystallised in the accurate identification of offenders is the use of fingerprint evidence.
Fingerprints are well known for their high probative value. Every human being possesses unique fingerprints and, for that reason, can be associated with such prints to a high degree of certainty when they are found on a particular object and/or surface. There exist various databases that store records of fingerprints for the purposes of comparison in criminal or other investigations.
However, what happens when no fingerprints are available in a particular situation, but there is another type of print, like a lip print? Can a positive identification be made from a lip print? Is there a database of lip prints that can be accessed for the purpose of comparisons? What is the probative value of a lip print? These are important questions because, in cases of murder, rape and burglary, lip prints (sometimes accompanied by tooth marks) may be present at the crime scene or on the clothes or body of a victim.
In this article, the probative value of lip prints, classified as body-prints, is examined and evaluated. This is a necessary examination, as lip-print evidence has not been used much in the court system. Cheiloscopy, a forensic investigative technique, is also discussed. This technique concerns the identification of a human being from his or her lip traces. Lip prints are also compared to fingerprints in order to determine their probative value. The question is whether there should be a database of lip prints in order to facilitate the identification of suspects in cases where no fingerprints, other body-prints or any other identifying features are present and possible. Furthermore, this article also investigates whether DNA extraction is possible from lip prints; if possible, this would have a profound influence on the success rate of the criminal justice system in identifying offenders and bringing them to justice.
In this article, reference to the masculine gender refers also to the feminine gender, and vice versa.


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How to Cite

Marc Welgemoed. (2019). Lip Prints: The Underestimated Identifiers in the Combat against Crime. Obiter, 40(2).