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Forensic science (often is written as forensics) is the appliance of a wide range of sciences to answer questions of interest to a legal system. This may be relevant to a crime or a civil action. Besides its relevance to a legal system, more generally forensic science covers the accepted scientific methodology and norms with the help of which the facts regarding an event, or an artifact, or some other physical item are established as being the case. In that regard the concept is related to the idea of authentication, where by an interest outside of a legal form exists in determining whether an object is what it wishes to be, or is alleged as being.
It became much easier to solve crime today than it was 50 years ago, because of the advances that have been made in science, or even in forensic science. In fact, new and innovative crime solving techniques are being introduced by the day to help law enforcement to solve cases that are baffling the first time. If we took a look at the role that forensics play in the fields of criminal law and justice, we would see how important it is in solving crime because:
It really helps to establish the nature of the crime: There are some crimes that are accidents and others that are by design. Analyzing the evidence with the help of a forensic microscope we see cops and others in the law enforcement area to determine if the crime was a murder, suicide or other form of accidental death. If it is a murder, forensic evidence tells them if the crime was accidental or carried out in cold blood. Forensic science is used to investigate and solve burglaries, drug offenses, arsons and automobile accidents.
It helps to remove personal prejudices: Forensic science makes law enforcement officers to look only at the evidence and not follow cases on their instincts or their feelings. That is why it provides a quantifiable way to solve crime, one that can be used to provide cold, hard evidence that is more acceptable in courts and to juries in convicting the guilty or acquitting the innocent (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2004, p. 32).
It helps to bring to light evidence that is not visible to the naked eye: Forensic science uses a number of techniques to discover evidence that is not immediately visible. So, even in situations where it seems to be no evidence at all, a minute fingernail or a strand of hair can help nail the criminal. The methods and techniques that are used are detailed and accurate, and if done carefully and correctly, they can help to recreate the crime in laboratory settings and solve the crime.
And last point and most important of all, it helps solve the crime itself: Using details such as the time of death and other physical evidence, forensic science can tell if a person is guilty of the crime or innocent as he claims. If it is used wisely and correctly, forensic science can help convict the guilty and acquit the innocent, both of which are important when someone is being prosecuted for a crime. Forensics makes a great comfort to those who have been affected by the crime and a valuable tool for the criminal law and justice departments in fighting crime.
Forensic science extends into a lot of sub-sciences which uses natural science techniques to get relevant criminal and legal evidence (Richbourg, J., 2004, p.17).
Forensic science specialties of the 21st century include:
- Forensic Accounting - This science allows receiving, examining and taking into account obtained data.
- Digital Forensics (also called as Computing Forensics) - includes scientific methods and techniques used for search, recovery of information on digital media (pictures, e-mail).
- Forensic Document Examination - This science allows studying, recovering and understanding the documents, making an analysis of handwriting and drawings, charts and graphics. Many studies involve a comparison of the observed document, or components of it, to a set of known standards.
- Forensic Economics - The purchasing, researching and understanding of evidence related to economic damage, which includes determination of lost benefits and earnings, business value and profit loss, lost household service value, labor replacement and future medical expense costs, etc.
- Forensic Engineering - The reconstruction, researching and explanation of structural or mechanical failure or in devices, buildings, etc. (Escholz S., 2002, p. 319).
- Forensic Linguistics - The searching and explanation of language for use as legal evidence.
- Forensic Origin and Cause - The researching, explanation and identification of a fire for the express purpose of determining the cause of ignition and origin of the fire.
- Forensic Photography - reconstructing, and preceding an accurate photographic reproduction of a crime scene for a court's benefit.
- Forensic Psychology and Psychiatry - The researching, evaluation and understanding of mentally-related illnesses and human behavior for the purpose of obtaining legal evidence.
- Forensic Anthropology is the kind of physical anthropology, relevant to a legal situation- typically the identification and recovery of skeletonized human remains (bones).
- Criminalistics is the supplement of combination of clues (i.e. fingerprints imprint footwear impressions and tire tracks), ballistics, trace evidence, controlled material.
- Criminalistics includes clues collected from different kinds of sciences to find the answers of questions relating to the researching and comparison of criminal investigations. This evidence is usually processed in a crime lab.
- Forensic Biology includes testing DNA and serological tests of bodily (physiological) fluids for the purpose of individualization and identification. Helps to answer forensic questions such as paternity or maternity testing or finding a suspect at a crime scene.
- Forensic Entomology helps in determination of time and location of death, by studding how insects relate to human remains, and can often times determine if the body that is examined was moved after death.
- Forensic Geology is the kind of trace evidence found in soils, minerals and petroleum, as applied to a legal setting (Escholz et al., 2002, p. 321; Surette, 1998.p. 194).
- Forensic Meteorology is an analysis of prior weather situation, specific to the site being observed.
- Forensic Odontology is the science about teeth- specifically, the uniqueness of dentition.
- Forensic Pathology combines the spheres of medicine and pathology, determines the cause of injury or death.
- Forensic Toxicology is science that helps to give the evaluation and the elucidation of the effects of poisons, chemicals, or drugs on the human body.
- Forensic archaeology is the example of a combination of archaeological techniques and forensic science, typically in law enforcement.
- Forensic psychology is the discovery of the mind of an individual, using forensic methods. Usually it deals with the circumstances behind a criminal's behavior.
- Forensic video analysis is the scientific research, comparison, and analyzing of video in legal matters (Cather, K.H., 2004, pp.9-10).
- Forensic engineering is the studding and analyzing of structures and other objects to answer questions as to their failure or reason of damage. Usually such research is used to answer legal questions.
- Forensic limnology is the analyzing of clues gathered from crime scenes in or around fresh water sources. Revision of biological organisms, particularly diatoms, can be used in connecting suspects with victims.
- Forensic science is very important for policing, criminal investigations and court processes because it helps with:
- Crime-Solving Contributions. Forensic science helps in to solving crimes through investigative activities such as determining the cause of death, identifying suspects, finding missing persons and profiling criminals.
- Determining Cause of Death. Forensic pathologists determine someone's reason of death by performing autopsies. During these procedures, they study fluids and tissues from a body to find out the cause of death and the manner of death.
- Identifying Suspects. Forensic experts can identify suspects by analyzing evidence found at the scene of a crime-such as fibers, hairs, blood and fingerprints. These methods usually are used to exonerate the innocent.
- Finding Missing Persons. Forensic scientists can help in finding people who have been missing for long time using the process of image modification. Using this method, a photograph is aged to illustrate what someone may look like years after his last being seen. This is one of the tools that can be used to find criminals who have eluded justice (Cather, K.H., 2004, pp.11; Escholz et al., 2002, p. 339).
- Profiling Criminals. Forensic experts use profiling to help find suspects. By analyzing a crime accident, they can determine a criminal's patterns and personality in an effort to narrow the suspect pool.
Forensic Science is important because it helps in analyzing of forensic evidence is used in the investigation and prosecution of civil and criminal proceedings. It can help to find the guilt or innocence of possible suspects.
Forensic science is also used to link crimes that are thought to be related to one another. For example, DNA evidence can link one offender to several crimes or crime scenes. Linking crimes can help law enforcement officers to narrow the range of possible suspects and to establish patterns of for crimes, which are useful in identifying and prosecuting suspects (Nielson Media Research, 2004, p. 26).
Forensic science also works on creating new techniques and procedures for the collection and analysis of evidence. In this meaning, new technology can be used not only to keep forensic scientist on the cutting edge of science, but also to maintain the highest standards of quality and accuracy.
The public is primarily educated about forensic science by Hollywood films and television shows (Barak, 1995, p. 3). Within the past ten years, the emphasis on forensics as a primary tool to solve crimes has increased significantly on broadcast television with shows like CSI. In comparison, Hollywood films have rarely featured a forensic scientist working in a lab or out in the field as a main character. Typically, the police make a stop at the crime lab to drop off or pick up potential evidence, thus move the film's investigative plot forward.
Nevertheless, as depicted by the media, forensic science is a broad field practiced by both genuine forensic scientists and law enforcement investigators. In the real world, the duties of forensic specialists are normally limited to forensic science techniques; however, police investigators use forensic methods on occasion (Cather, K.H., 2004, p.13)
Audiences have learned about forensics from television as well as film. Television has shown both traditional forensic science and the use of forensic science by law enforcement through news shows, documentaries, docudramas and crime dramas. These have been given much greater exposure lo the public in various television formats than Hollywood films ever did. Probably first to focus on forensic scientists were investigative news shows, such as 60 Minutes, 48 Hours, and MSNBC investigates.
These often featured repugnant criminal acts that were solved through the use of forensic science evidence. During the mid 1990s, docudramas that focus on forensic scientists began to emerge. New Detectives, FBI Files, and Forensic Files, feature actors to recreate actual cases to depict how forensic science evidence assisted in the successful capture of offenders.
Nowadays there are a lot of videos and documentary films about forensics, such as A Case of Murder, Dead Men's Tales, Killer's Trail, The Case for Innocence, The Case for Innocence, Jefferson's Blood, The Bone Collector, Murder by Numbers, Kiss the Girls.
We should also mention such great television Series with Forensic Science Elements as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Crossing Jordan, Law and Order (Richbourg, J., 2004, p.19).
We can find a lot of True life crime & forensic science on television in such shows as: New Detectives (Discovery Channel), Forensic Files (Court TV), I, Detective (Court TV), Cold Case Files (A&E), Medical Detectives (TLC), Forensic Science (TLC), Unsolved History (Discovery).
Forensic science's spell in the limelight has given it huge honor. The TV shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has made students flocking to forensics courses. But while this interest is sexing up the image of scientists, it is also stopping police catching criminals and securing convictions.
Young people who watch CSI believe that those scenarios, where forensic scientists are always right, are what happen in reality. It means that in court, juries are not always impressed with evidence presented using scientific terms. Another big problem created by media coverage of forensic science is that it informs criminals of the techniques the police use to catch them. That is why, some forensics experts are not willing to cooperate with the media (Cather, K.H., 2004, pp.13).
There is an increasing amount of criminals who use plastic gloves during break-ins and condoms during rapes in order not to leave their DNA at the scene. Statistics describes a murder case in which the assailant tried to wash away his DNA using shampoo. Police say that car thieves there have started to dump cigarette butts from bins in stolen cars before they abandon them. None of this films or TV shows makes the forensic scientist's job easier, but it probably won't prevent them fingering a suspect.
As a conclusions we can say that a minority of America's population has had no direct experience with the criminal justice system (Escholz et al., 2002, p. 328; Surette & Otto, 2002, p. 450). That is why those who are called for jury duty know very little of the capabilities of the use of forensic science to resolve criminal investigations. With the media serving as a primary source of information to 95% of the public (Surette, 1998.p. 197), the reality of forensic science in the average citizen's mind could be based only on the medial depictions of forensic experts.
The ability of media to reach a broad audience seems to have caused a reaction by trial lawyers. For the last several years, the forensic crime drama CSI has surpassed the popularity of any other television show (Nielson Media Research. 2004). Nearly 80% of the surveyed lawyers suspected fans of forensic crime dramas have unrealistic expectations of evidence. The common belief among trial lawyers that forensic crime dramas create such unrealistic expectations seems to have resulted in several changes while preparing for trials and during criminal proceedings. First, a slight majority of the lawyers reported they ask jury candidates if they specifically view forensic crime dramas during voir dire. Attorneys also may be compensating for the possibility that jurors have unrealistic expectations of forensic evidence by submitting additional evidence for forensic testing. Fifty-one percent of the lawyers reported requesting some forensic tests more than they did five years ago. In contrast, prosecuting attorneys maybe requesting further forensic test because of an increased interest in matters involving forensic science by defense attorneys. For every topic of defense interest investigated by the current study, at least 59% of the lawyers reported an increase.
The responses to surveys by criminal trial lawyers suggest the majority of attorneys have reacted the current popularity of forensic crime dramas. Before these findings can be accepted as a general nationwide trend, further research in multiple regions of the country is needed. Qualitative and quantitative studies should be designed to test the findings of this study and expound upon this possibility. A not educated citizenry, weaned on media images, may serve to undermine the court process when called upon to serve as jurors. Better preparation by judges and attorneys to counter such a trend is warranted.