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Forensic Science in the Executive and at the Judicative area
Forensic science, have always had a strong influence on both the executive and the judicature’s perspective, of evidence collected and presented in court; and always been indispensable in criminal investigations and prosecutions. This is for the reason, that science is applied, and is valuable, as it has the capacity to develop prospective achievements and to contribute reliability, relevancy, and regularly have conclusive material about a specified event. Science is not only applied to examine substances, to identify human remains and tools, but also to provide confirmation of any contact encountered amongst the individuals and surroundings involved in a case. The role of a forensic experts in Malta – which mainly makes part of the Malta Police Force – is to provide the judicative with unbiased attentive results (Jackson, A.R.W., Jackson, J.M, 2011).
According to Fisher (2004), numerous roles in criminal investigation – in partnership with evidence found on crime scene – are pleased by forensic science; is to establish in the first place whether a crime was committed or not, identify individuals linked with the crime, absolve the innocent from any miscarriage of justice and establishing facts, of what had happened (McEwen, T., 2011).
The application of forensic science, comes along with ‘chain of custody’, the process of continuity of evidence; where it starts off at the crime scene. Appointed forensic experts are obliged to follow the process of uninterruption, or else evidence may be considered inacceptable in court. Initially, physical evidence have to be recovered from the scene of crime, separated and packed appropriately as required. After the analysis has been carried out, results may give responses to queries such as whether a crime has been committed or not, which is one of the most vital initial phases. A well-known Locard’s exchange principle is, ‘Every Contact Leaves a Trace’, whereas applied to practice, forensic science, demonstrate any physical contact and transfer of physical materials, which had happened between individuals and surroundings. Therefore, one must seek for any unnoticed evidence on both the scene of the crime and while analysing the evidence, which any fragmentary trace will make a difference in the taking of evidence session (Jackson, A.R.W., Jackson, J.M, 2011).
One famous TV series, CSI, portrays forensic process as having limitless capabilities and closes the case within a very short span of time. This had created the ‘CSI effect’ on the public’s perception, putting a lot of pressure, on both the investigators and the forensic experts for a conviction, particularly in Malta. Since we are a small nation, our forensic lab investments, within the Malta Police Force, is quite limited in modern mechanisms and technologies; hence, some of the samples such as DNA have to be analysed in foreign countries, needs time and is financially costly (McEwen, T., 2011).
Jackson, A.R.W., Jackson, J.M, (2011), continues stating, that in the forensic field three identified terms are essential to distinguish amongst. The precision, the accuracy and the error. Although it is notable on TV series that forensic science is portrayed as the pathway to truth and conviction, this can also conclude with a damaging twist. As stated by Thompson, W.C. (2009), errors made by a forensic expert are based on individual knowledge and ethical failure. This problem is only for “a few bad apples”, of which, they must be substituted or reskilled. The bad apples metaphor explains that incorrect forensic science is the result of a wrong forensic expert, of which had resulted in wrongful convictions, based on faulty analyses – ‘forensic science, to convict and to exonerate, is underrepresented and often wrongly understood in research concerning wrongful convictions’– can be the cause of false confessions, false eyewitness identifications, and poor quality of lawyering (Schiffer and Champod, n.d.). In a forensic laboratory, Thompson, W.C. (2009), explains how incidents or mistakes can be either of unintentional, such as the cross contamination of samples, misinterpretation of results and mislabelling of samples, or of intentional, such as failing to report problematic results, overdoing findings and ignoring failed technological mechanism. These ‘unit failures’ not only fall under the forensic laboratories unit, but under the executive as a whole. If incorrectly is suggested to the eyewitness to focus on a particular individual, police investigators are committing a mistake; leading to the wrongful identification of a person by the eyewitness, this goes beyond the ‘unit failure’. Evaluating this, on the other hand a wrongful conviction is described as a ‘system failure’, because of the involvement of more than one unit. This can be seen in the Malta Police Force, such as the two main units in most of the cases – the ‘Criminal Investigation Department’ and the ‘Forensic Laboratory’. In some circumstances, the ‘unit failure’ might be too obvious, that the prosecutor himself may realises that the accused has a strong alibi and an effective and convincing evidence that, might be difficult for him to have committed that crime (Thompson, W.C., 2009). Thus, these enforced errors, are the contributors for wrongful conviction, having inadmissible evidence in court and therefore dismissal of cases.
The appointed forensic experts, therefore, must transfer their results in a form of report for the use of it in court. The contents of this report, must not only be complete, but understood by a non-expert in that particular area, within the criminal justice system. This may also comprise with the forensic expert to appear in court as an expert witness, where, he or she gives proofs based on their own experience and knowledge within their own area of expertise. Jackson, A.R.W., Jackson, J.M, (2011), explains that the course may be understood better, by diving it into three stages – analysis, interpretation and evaluation – although they still vary from one case to the other depending on the nature of the crime committed and the evidence available.
The next phase consist of the presentation of evidence in court. In Malta, better known as the ‘Kumpilazzjoni’, where all evidence and eye witnesses are taken. Since, Malta has a limited online resources, I made reference to the Inspector of Forensics within the Malta Police Force as a source of information. When a Magistrate appoints a forensic expert, he or she will be liable to carry out analyses related to his or her expertise. Same has to carry out all the essential forensic examinations, and report in writing the findings and conclusions directly to the Magistrate. Anyone in the Malta Police Force within Forensic Laboratory, can be called as an expert witness, obviously, if the person possess that expertise. The reports shall include all particulars, starting from the time the forensic expert has been appointed; what was finalised, what was noticed, the examination, analysis and observation. The report shall be written in professional jargon, however, in the hearing of evidence session in court, the expert shall explain in layman language. The findings and conclusions can be supported by literature.
A report on vehicles involved in a fatal traffic accident, shall be compiled by a technical expert who will be proficient in the science of vehicles. As the Forensic Inspector continued stating, he describe that scientific jargon is used in report writing – since Maltese is the first language of the Maltese Criminal Justice System, the jargon will be in Maltese – “profil Ä¡enetiku gÄall-DNA”, “sliegÄ mall-Äajt ngÄidulu marki ta’ skalar”, “marki ta’ l-ingwanti ngÄidulu marki ta’ gÄata”, shoe prints are said to be “marki ta’ pedata”, fingerprint is said to be “impronta diÄ¡itali”. Other example is in the ballistics report such as “the pistol was a semi-automatic of calibre 9mm”.
He continued explaining, how expert witness can be called in compilations, as either to confirm the report he or she presented as the result of the findings – in this case the expert has been already appointed in an inquiry before the compilation proceeding has initiated – therefore, is connected to that compilation; or, during the compilation proceedings, requested by either the prosecution or defence council to examine any documents presented during such proceedings. As mentioned before, unbiased findings are to be presented; hence, expert witness can be refused by either parties if there might be grounds of personal interest, related to the accused or his integrity will be demanded. Depending on the appointed time, the report should contain the expert’s conclusion, such as, the fingerprint expert’s analysis of comparing the latent prints from the scene of crime with the fingerprints of the accused. Conclusion are to be clear either corresponding with the sample or not. This is only in the hands of the experts; as was explained scene of crime officers recover evidence from the crime scene, such as fingerprints using various powders depending the texture and material. Evidence is photographed and indicated from where it has been recovered, but cannot be analysed and mentioned whether that fingerprint belongs to the suspect or not, by the scene of the crime officers; because the appointment wasn’t that of comparing (Inspector of Forensics within the Malta Police Force, 2014).
Many unsolved crimes are now being solved with recognitions to forensic science and its advancement throughout the years. As stated by Tjin-A-Tsoi, T.B.P.M. (2013), this advancement has been determined by three main influences, the introduction of new technological competences, improved general awareness among customers concerning the value and efficiency of forensic science, and the advertisement of new categories of customers from outside the scope of traditional forensics. Forensic laboratories can intensify the worth of the information they deliver in three ways; by increasing reliability with strengthening objectivity and scientific support, secondly by providing more information at ‘activity’ level, and, can improve the information they offer by developing apparatuses and methods that bring to light traces that have been unavailable back in time, because they are undetectable to the human senses. Forensic science within the investigations is becoming gradually important, at the same time, forensic technology is becoming more complex and difficult to understand for the layman. All this points to a rising need for re-training and re-education, not only in forensic investigators, but even to the users of forensic information. This is mainly due to a change and improvement in the entire process of investigations (Tjin-A-Tsoi, T.B.P.M., 2013). Furthermore, over the past few years, the Netherlands Forensic Institution has realised and indeed is still realising, a combined administration, to not only offers forensic services, but that it also performs its own research and development in order to advance its services and create innovative new ones.
The forensic sector will find itself challenged to keep up with the great expectations that society have of it, and what media put on it (Tjin-A-Tsoi, T.B.P.M., 2013). Unfortunately Malta is quite limited to some degree, in both the financial sector and in the personnel sector. From time to time, Malta is welcoming various cultural and religious ‘tourists’ all year around; and crime is not the traditional way as it used to be, nonetheless, it brings on its own new challenges. Success may be the outcome, if the forensic laboratory takes up the challenge and makes fundamental changes like, opening the doors for further forensic opportunities and foreign experiences, where necessary.
Insp. Forensic Laboratory. (2014). The Malta Police Force.
Jackson, A.R.W., Jackson, J.M. (2011). ‘Forensic Science’, 3rd edition. England: Prentice Hall Publications.
McEwen, T. (2011). ‘The Role and Impact of Forensic Evidence in the Criminal Justice System, Final Report’. Doc. No: 236474. National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieves on Tuesday 8th April, 2014, from, https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/236474.pdf
Thompson, W.C. (2009). ‘Beyond Bad Apples: Analysing the Role of Forensic Science in Wrongful Convictions’. Thompson Article Final Macro. Southwestern University Law Review. Retrieved on Tuesday 8th April, 2014, from, http://www.swlaw.edu/pdfs/lr/37_4thompson.pdf
Tjin-A-Tsoi, T.B.P.M. (2013). ‘Trends, Challenges and Strategy in the Forensic Science Sector’. The Netherlands Forensic Institute, Ministry of Security and Justice. Retrieved on Friday 18th April, 2014, from,