New Mexico

Department of Public Safety

Keeping New Mexico Safer Through Safe Roads and Safer Communities

Latent Print Unit

The Department of Public Safety (DPS) Forensic Laboratory Bureau currently has a Latent Print Section located in the Santa Fe laboratory. Additionally, the Santa Fe Latent Print Unit also performs footwear and tire track analysis for the entire State of New Mexico.


The Latent Print examiners apply scientific means to process evidence from criminal investigations, for the presence of latent (invisible) and patent (visible) finger and palm prints. Prints are developed and/or enhanced using various powders, chemical, and illumination techniques. These prints are then visually compared to known inked fingerprints of a suspect or victim, or entered into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, (AFIS).

Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS)

AFIS is a computer database which enables unidentified latent prints, recovered from crime scenes or evidence, to be compared with over 700,000 fingerprint or palm print records from known individuals within the database. By successfully identifying the source of a print or linking prints between crimes, important investigation information can be developed.

Additional Services

Latent Print examiners provide expert testimony regarding their findings and opinions, in courts throughout the state of New Mexico. The Latent Print Unit also provides instructions regarding collection and preservation of latent print evidence for NMSP and Basic Training academies, and provides additional technical assistance to law enforcement agencies as requested.

Helpful Hints

  • Never package items of evidence in plastic. Always use paper bags or cardboard boxes.
  • Always collect elimination prints and/or suspect standards (finger and palm), at the time of arrest.
  • If your intent is to submit evidence to the laboratory for latent print analysis, we suggest that you not process the evidence prior to submission, or at least seek advice on how to properly process the item(s).

Latent Prints Unit Frequently Asked Questions:

Should I process items for latent prints before sending them to the lab?
Processing evidence at the scene is optional and encouraged with oversized items such as vehicles, large windows, etc. Latent prints can be developed, photographed, and lifted from the scene and submitted to the lab. However, if you intend on submitting the items for testing, refrain from any processing, package the item(s) accordingly, and submit them to the lab.
How should I package items for latent print testing?
Items for latent print processing should be packaged in breathable packaging, such as envelopes, cardboard boxes, or paper bags. DO NOT package items in plastic bags or wrap items tightly in packaging. Condensation and/or friction from packaging may degrade or destroy any latent impressions present on items.
What types of items are good candidates for latent prints?
Most probative items believed to be handled or touched by any person of interest, such as weapons, tools, or general objects, are candidates for latent print testing. Item with smooth surfaces are ideal candidates, and while textured surfaces yield lower success rates, they are still candidates for latent print testing. In addition, porous items, such as paper or cardboard, are also conducive to latent prints testing and can be submitted. Due to laboratory policies, some items eligible for touch DNA testing will not be tested by both DNA and Latent Prints depending on the type of offense. Please contact a forensic scientist regarding which method of testing will yield the best possible results.
What items are not candidates for latent print testing?
Items such as fabrics, projectiles, and rocks are not conducive to latent print testing and are not accepted for such testing. In addition, items retrieved directly from a person are less probative and likely to produce known results of direct handling, and therefore should not be submitted for latent print testing.
What additional case information is needed for latent print testing?
Case information is not important for latent print testing. However, if you are unable to obtain major case prints from possible suspects, it is valuable to include the date of birth or SID/FBI number of any person involved in the case on your submission form. This will allow us to search our record archives for any available standards.
Do I need to submit elimination standards for latent print testing?
Submitting elimination standards depends on the type of crime. All non-violent crimes, such as property crimes, require elimination/victim standards based upon laboratory policies. There is no requirement for the submission of elimination standards for violent crimes, although if they are available for submission, it is highly encouraged. At a minimum, the name and DOB of all persons of interest and victims is required information for the submission of violent crimes.
What are major case prints?
Major case prints are a complete recording of friction ridge skin from the hands, to include rolled fingers, palms, fingertips, sides of fingers, and joints. These recordings provide the most accurate information to perform comparisons of any latent impressions found or developed on items of evidence.