It is hardly possible to exaggerate the role of forensic science in nowadays performance of crimes’ investigation. Without its methods it would be impossible to collect relevant evidence, to get a clue of the crime events, to present the case to the court, to find and punish the offenders. Forensics encompasses various fields of sciences: the main of them are medicine, biology, and chemistry. It uses relevant methods to collect the traces of crime, analyze them, and present in the court. The performance of forensic science is authorized by the law and must be legitimate. The case investigator is supposed to cooperate with crime scene personnel collecting and preserving the material of evidence. One must analyze the examining reports, come up with the theories and proceed the case in the court. The improvement of modern technologies constantly reforms forensic science and makes it easier to investigate the crimes. Nevertheless, some random obstacles, produced by unfortunate circumstances, can appear as well as the hardships caused by different educational omissions and poor technological support (Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Sciences Community & National Research Council, 2009, p. 2).
Therefore, the paper is about to trace the evolution of forensic science and analyze its role in the criminal justice system by applying and discussing its methods on the given example.
The History of Forensic Science
The historical sources claim that human ancestors used fingerprints instead of a signature. Considering the fact that each fingerprint is unique, it can be the best way to personalize the document, even much better than the signature, which is used in the contemporary world. Scholars noticed the different picture of different fingerprint, and within the time, they have come up with the conclusion that every human had a unique pattern. This is how this field of study has become a science. In the modern world, forensic science fingerprints analysis is one of the crucial moments, which provides the police with substantial evidence.
In the 19th century, people started to analyze the bullets with the aim to connect them to some weapon. It is possible to do because when the bullet passes the gunpoint with the vast speed, some microscopic unique scratches are left on the bullet’s surface. Every gunpoint leaves different marks, which helps to identify to what type of weapon the bullet belongs. The invention of microscope allowed forensic scientists to observe the surface of different materials preciously.
The scientist Karl Landsteiner was rewarded with the Nobel Prize because with the help of his blood research he has concluded that there were several different types of blood. Nowadays, it is a well-known fact, which is obvious even for kids. Today this knowledge is used for blood comparison, which is definitely considered being significant evidence. Later on, the scholars started to research and compare other body fluids, such as saliva, sweat, and semen.
The invention of various digital tools disposes the investigational patterns nowadays. Modern forensic scientists analyze recording devices and/or photo materials. They use a computer to search for a person’s information including fingerprints and blood type. Special computer programs create 3D images; it helps to observe the subject from different angles. The DNA analysis has become rather popular; the lab employee needs only a cell or two to detect its owner (Watson, 2004). Furthermore, as Beaver (2010) emphasizes, “One of the major driving forces behind the increased use of forensic evidence has been the rapid development of sophisticated technological machines that can process microscopic fibers” (p. 405).
Thus, on the contemporary stage of the development, forensic science can be defined as “scientific and technical knowledge that is applied to the investigation of a crime and the evaluation of evidence to assist courts in resolving questions of fact in court” (White, 2010, p. 2).
Forensics Methods and Specifics of Their Application
The types of evidence in the forensic science can be subdivided into several groups. Biological traces are the group of evidence such as hair, blood, sweat, semen samples. Chemical traces include gunshot residues, fiber and soil samples, and drug analysis. Physical evidence contains of fingerprints marks, footwear and tire tracks, recorded voice messages, videos and also the descriptions of person’s features, the way one commits the crime and the psychological characteristics of one’s actions.
Forensic science implies different disciplines such as biology, medicine, genetics, pathology, anthropology, chemistry, toxicology and psychiatry (Lichanska, 2004).
The investigation of all crimes requires cooperation of the case investigator and crime scene personnel. They must gather physical evidence, protect them from damage and present them to the lab employees, who, in their turn, will analyze them and claim the results to the detective (National Forensic Science Technology Center [NFSTC], n.d.).
The crime scene photography takes place before picking up the evidence materials. It is done to make visual documentation of the crime area, which may serve as a material of the crime evidence in the court.
The team of experts analyzes the blood spills. The blood is ruled by biological, physics and mathematics principles. This acknowledge helps to examine blood stain patterns considering the following questions: where the blood came from, the reason of the wounds, the direction of an attack, the position of the victim and attacker and the way each of them performed. Studying the area of the crime scene gives the clue about bloodshed events, which can be classified according to blood behavior, and divided into three main groups: stabbing, hitting or beating and gunshots injuries (NFSTC, n.d.).
The forensic field of exploring the firearms and bullets is called ballistics. The main purpose of this science is to determine if the bullets match the firearm because a specific firearm leaves specific marks on the bullet. Even though it can tell nothing about the shooter, it helps to identify the weapon and connect it to the bullets (NFSTC, n.d.).
The fingerprint analysis is based on the oil provided by human skin. Each fingerprint is unique, even twins have different patterns; this fact allows to identify its owner unmistakably. The fingerprint can be visible or invisible for human eyes, the investigators use special lighting to detect such invisible, or so-called latent prints (“Forensic Science,” 2002).
The DNA evidence can be collected by using any biological material which contains human cells. Because of the unique DNA pattern, this kind of analysis has gained great popularity. The DNA evidence is considered to be one of the most dependable.
Observing the corpse is also very important for the investigation. An autopsy can answer the question what caused the death. For example, the scratches and wounds may tell how and when the person died. If a person was drowned, there would be water in one’s lungs. When the individual was thrown into the water after death, one’s heart would have some undiluted blood. In case the person died not longer than ten hours ago, there would be specific stiffness of jaws and limbs. If the corpse was found later, the tissues would start to decay (“Forensic Science,” 2002).
The field of forensic drug chemistry serves to prove or deny the presence of drugs in the body system. Those can be molecules of illegal drugs as well as some prescribed medicines; drug analysis helps to complete the picture telling about possible health problems, drug addiction and influence of chemicals on the organism (Watson, 2004).
The biggest advantage of forensic audio and video analysis is that it is a real time eyewitness of the crime scenario. Sometimes it is necessary to use special devices to improve the quality of video and audio tapes (NFSTC, n.d.).
Practical Application of Theories and Methods of Forensics
An episode “Crime 360” of Welcome to Homicide discusses the murder of a 36-year-old man. The crime scene personnel collect the first evidence: they take pictures of the place, including the car and parking place, as well as the corpse inside it.
They provide visual documentary of the crime scene. The pictures will help to create the crime performance. The scene tells that it is obviously the murder: the body is bended, and the victim’s limbs are tied. Since the body is wrapped on the blanket, it is hard to say at first glance what has become the reason of the man’s death. Moreover, there are no blood stains that evidence this is not exactly the place of the crime.
The blood odor tracks have led the bloodhound to the apartment located nearby the crime scene area. It is supposed to be the place where a dead man used to live. This search in hot pursuit was reasonable and based on the bloodhound’s searching and did not violate the Fourth Amendment any way. The homicide team has found only cleaning gloves there. Nevertheless, it tells that the killer knew his victim as he has come to his place to hide the evidence; the body was found in the car, which belonged to the deceased man, and was left not far from his place.
The autopsy’s report tells that man got two bullets one in the head and another in his mouth; however, it is hard to say which one was the first. The pathologist stresses that the wounds show it was a short-distance attack. This fact proves that the victim might know his offender.
The witness asserts that he has seen two men near his complex and then heard two sharp sounds like shooting. This testimony is enough to get searching warrant, investigator does not violate the Fourth Amendment, his actions are legitimate and do not intrude the privacy which is protected by law. Police check the address and the evidence they have found there (for instance, bloody bedding, and two vague washed up blood spots on the carpet) shows that it is the place of murder. They take blood samples to compare them to the blood of the dead man. The result of blood stain analysis proves that blood is identical to one of the victim. Investigator knows the place of homicide, the name of its owner, and the type of his car.
The police arrest and question the suspect; they understand that he is guilty because he has no answers, but claims that another man was involved.
The ballistics expertise reports that both bullets belong to the same gun. Considering the fact that both shots were made from the different angles with the same gun, the investigators admit that it is more likely there is only one killer.
The fingerprints analysis proves that the fingerprint marks, which were found in the car of the dead man, match the fingerprints of the suspected man. They make a 3D performance of the crime scenario based on the evidence that have been collected.
Part of the evidence is still incomprehensible. There is a T-shirt with the hole from a gunshot, which was found near the crime place. The lab employee who specializes on such evidences tells that melted fabric and the absence of blood indicate that the gunshot was made through it. All the evidence is against the suspected black man in whose apartment the murder took place. Police still have to check the possibility to carry a heavy corpse alone. The pathologist says that the scratches on man’s shoulders are not typical for pulling him down the stairs; however, if he has been wrapped in the blanket, it might be possible. A detective emphasizes to the suspect how convincing all the evidence are and makes him confess of committing a crime.
To investigate this case the following methods were used:
- blood stain analysis,
- fingerprint analysis,
- ballistics analysis
- autopsy’s analysis,
- crime scene photography,
- bloodhound investigation,
- the questioning of the witnesses and suspects.
The following evidence is presented:
- the report of blood stains analysis, which proves that the blood of victim matches the blood spilt in the suspect’s place;
- the fingerprints analysis shows that the fingerprints of suspected man are identical to those found in the victim’s car;
- the ballistics report claims that the murder was committed using one firearm with the bullets coming from the different angles; so there is only one perpetrator;
- the testimony of witness says that one saw two men, and heard two gunshots in his complex;
- the way the corpse was moved tells that the one who did it must have been a strong man because the body is rather heavy;
- there is a T-shirt which the killer used to mute the shots;
- the pathologist’s report that the murder was committed from the short distance, which confirms that two persons knew each other;
- pictures of the crime scene area, which proves that the offender knew the place where the victim lived.
To sum up, the paper has traced the evolution of forensic science and analyzed its role in the criminal justice system by applying and discussing its theories and methods on the given example. The application of forensic science contains different methods to gain the necessary information. The choice of methods depends on the crime characteristics. The result of the investigation includes main as well as minor evidence, and their combination helps to create the real scene of crime events. All the evidence must be legitimate.
Crime scene investigator must know the variety of forensic methods, take in count unexpected events and circumstances which may slow down one’s investigation. This professional must consider that all his or her actions should be under the law and collected evidence must be significant, completely verified and legitimate.
Nowadays, forensic science is a streamline of cooperation between forensic technicians, pathologists, bloodstain examiners, 3D designers, crime scene photographers and many other scientists and lab employees. They work as one entity whose main purpose is to give a good supplement of significant evidence.
Welcome to Homicide “Case 360” (Episode Reference)
The dead black man is found in the trunk of his car. After giving the first professional look, detective realizes that this is not the place of murder. It is obviously that the body has been moved and left here. The group of experts examines the surrounding area trying to find the relevant evidence. They take pictures of the corpse inside of the trunk and the position of the car, which is parked near some living complex.
The pathologist’s report claims the man was shot twice: the first shoot was in his mouth and he has got another one in his head. According to the size and location of the wounds, the experts make a conclusion that the murderer was in the vicinity to the victim when he shot. Thus it is more likely that they knew each other. The expert in ballistics tells that both bullets belong to the same gun.
Police get a call from a man who has seen two males and then heard two shots in the neighbor apartment. Checking the apartment, investigator finds two vague blood spots on the carpets and lots of blood on the bedding. Also, they find a T-shirt with the round hole and melted fabric on its edges, which means that someone has shot through it. The bloodstain analysis shows that the blood belongs to the dead man. The examination of the crime scene and finding blood spills helps the police to make a 3D performance of events which took place that evening.
They manage to find the suspect without difficulty. However, the man does not want to cooperate. He does not tell where the gun is and he insists that there were two people who came to his apartment with the purpose to rob him. On the contrary, evidence demonstrates that the homicide was performed by only one person. An investigator doubts the possibility to move the body from the second floor, where the man was killed, to the car.
They check the corpse again and find some scratches which may be caused by pulling the body all the way to the vehicle. The detective talks to the suspected black man again and this time he makes a confession. The man was shot by his friend when he was sitting on the bed and watching TV. The killer wrapped the T-shirt around his arm with the gun in order not to arise any suspect.
- Beaver, K. M. (2010). The premises and pitfalls of forensic evidence in unsolved crimes. American Society of Criminology, 9(2), 405-410.
- Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Sciences Community, & National Research Council. (2009, August). Strengthening forensic science in the United States: A path forward. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/228091.pdf
- Forensic science. (2002). In UXL encyclopedia of science. Retrieved from http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3438100304.html
- Lichanska, A. (2004). Forensic science. In Encyclopedia of espionage, intelligence, and security. Retrieved from http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403300319.html
- National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC). (n.d.). A simplified guide to forensic science. http://www.forensicsciencesimplified.org/csi/
- Watson, S. (n.d.). How forensic lab techniques work. Retrieved from http://science.howstuffworks.com/forensic-lab-technique1.htm
- White, P. (Ed.). (2010). Crime scene to court: The essentials of forensic science. (3rd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry Publishing.