The Times West Virginian

Local News

July 14, 2014

Body markings, piercings used as evidence

FAIRMONT — In cases and investigations, law enforcement use every piece of evidence they can to help the truth come out in a case.

In some cases a person’s tattoo or piercing can be vital evidence in a case or investigation. Marion County Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Wilson said in most cases tattoos and piercings are used to identify a person involved in the case.

Wilson said those who commit crimes will sometimes give false identification to law enforcement.

During investigations, he said a victim may identify an assailant or a witness may identify the person who committed a crime to have a specific tattoo or piercing.

“We’ve had victims who identify perpetrators who commit crimes in part by saying they had this kind of tattoo,” Wilson said.

Once a victim or witness identifies a person involved with a crime by tattoos or piercings, law enforcement may use that testimony in court. Wilson said if an original statement to the police stated that the person had a tattoo or significant piercing, attorneys can use that statement in court.

“It does come into evidence and can come into evidence,” he said.

While a defendant is on trial in court, Wilson said often times their attorney will have them wear clothes that cover up any tattoos.

“They’ll do whatever they can do to cover up the tattoos simply because there’s a perception about people who have tattoos at all,” he said.

Wilson said there is a negative perception still about people who have tattoos even with 45 million people in the U.S. having them. He said especially when it comes to tattoos on someone who has committed a crime.

Wilson said when a person sent to prison has have tattoos, a description of those tattoos goes into the file. Identification is also the purpose to why tattoos are listed on a record.

Not every police agency is the same. Wilson said agencies around the country most likely have different systems or processes in how they describe tattoos on a record.

“I know here in Marion County there is note or documentation of if a person has tattoos if they’re arrested,” he said. “When they’re processed, there will be a note particularly whether or not they have tattoos.”

When an arrestee or criminal have unique tattoos, Wilson said the documentation will have specific details of those tattoos.

Wilson said in some cases people have so many tattoos or what’s known as a “sleeve” tattoo where the entire arm is covered in ink, records won’t reflect how many that person has. He said it will be on record that a person has a tattoo sleeve.

“It’s sometimes hard to distinguish every little tattoo here and there,” Wilson said. “But always there will be a notation that a person has tattoos.”

Along with putting tattoos on documents for criminals, Wilson said those who belong to gangs sometimes have tattoos associated with that gang.

As for piercings, Wilson said law enforcement use piercings as another identification tool.

Although piercings are easier to remove than tattoos, Wilson said scars could be left on a person’s skin from a piercing. He said in that case as a prosecuting attorney, he would have a doctor look at the defendant and determine if a scar is visible from a piercing.

“A lot of times there will be reasons to look because there will be scar tissue or something that was indicative that a piercing was there,” Wilson said.

Wilson said investigators can also use social media as a tool when wanting to identify a person through tattoos. He said a lot of the time people are proud of their tattoos and post pictures of them on social media pages or profiles.

“They’ll put it out there on Facebook and it’s there,” Wilson said. “Then later on if an individual is accused of a particular crime and tattoos become relevant, certainly that’s a way investigators can use to identify or investigate the case.”

Just as an observation, Wilson said he has noticed that some criminals will memorialize the crimes that they commit. In some case he has heard of criminals having an entire crime scene tattooed on their bodies.

Email Emily Gallagher at or follow her on Twitter @EGallagherTWV.

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