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Forensic Science is the key to solving virtually any crime. It is the basic foundation to any criminal justice or law career. Without forensics there would be no criminal justice. It took horrific tragedies to create a great field of science and to bring justice to a lost life. Many people do not know what “forensic” means or what they do. The building blocks to forensics are the history, benefits of being in the forensic science field, and day-to-day duties of a forensic scientist.
“Forensic Science is any science used for the purposes of the law, and therefore provides impartial scientific evidence for use of the courts of law, and in a criminal investigation and trial” (Oracle Education Foundation, 2010). Forensics derived from the Latin word meaning “of or before the forum” (The U.S. DOJ, 2011). As early as 1248 AD, Chinese author Song Ci writes a book titled Hsi DuanYu (the Washing Away of Wrongs) describing how to distinguish between a death by drowning and strangulation by using logic or what we now call forensic science (qtd. in FS Timeline). The author of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyal, had a major impact on forensics (The U.S. DOJ, 2011). He applied the basic principles of fingerprinting, identifiable firearms, and the criminal work. It was during this time the faint trace of oil from the skin was left on a surface called the fingerprint. To enhance the print, a fine powder was applied to bring out more detail. This is called dusting. Shortly after, Henry Faults and William James Herschel realized how distinctive and unique each print really is. It took English scientist Sir Francis Galton to come up with the first system of identifying the fingerprint. He used new words like arches, loops, and whorls to describe the look of the print. In mid 1900, police commissioner Sir Edward Henry expanded on Galton's idea and introduced to Scotland Yard the first complete fingerprinting process. In 1903, New York's prison was the first to use fingerprinting for identification.
DNA was used for the first time in the United States in1987, to convict Tommy Lee Andrews of a series of assaults. It was in Orange County, Florida, where Andrews DNA blood sample matches that found on the victim (Edward Conners, 1996). DNA evidence starts to be trusted and in the case of State v. Woodall and Spencer v. Commonwealth we start to see the State Supreme Court ruling in favor of allowing DNA evidence in a court of law. It was seriously challenged in New York by the case of People v. Castro. Jose Castro was charged with murdering his neighbor and her daughter. Police had evidence showing Castro commited the crime with a bloodstain on his shirt; the DNA did not match his blood, but instead it matched the blood of the victim. DNA is beneficial because a sample can be lifted from fabrics and in bone for many years, which holds up in harsh environments. The downfall of DNA testing is many cases fall short with samples not being big enough to test (Campbell, 1999).
A former police officer by the name of Arthur Dixon encouraged the study of science in crime detection. DNA has become the most evolved from the dawn of time to now. DNA-typing was first used in the mid 1980's, although it was not as successful in finding criminals but it was a start. The making of a DNA fingerprint is very complex, isolating the DNA strand, cutting sizing and sorting, transfering DNA to nylon, probing, and the final product is a DNA fingerprint (National Health Museum, 1994-2009). Isolation of a DNA strand is collecting the DNA from skin cells, hair, or body fluids. Cutting, sizing and sorting is cutting the strand in certain spots, sizing is separating the strands into biggest to smallest, and sorting is sending the different sized strands to different locations to have a gel like substance coat them (Butler, par. 3-6). Transferring is taking the strands of DNA that has this gel like substance on them, holding them over night on a nylon sheet. This helps the substance soak into the strands and take the shape of the DNA. Adding a color to the nylon sheet is called probing which is the next step to a fingerprint. Each probe normally sticks to one or two spots on the sheet of nylon. DNA fingerprinting is the final product from all these steps. It takes a highly knowledgable person trained in the specific area to produce the results to catch criminals.
The requirements to become a forensic scientist are extremely specialized. It takes hard work and dedication to receive this high education and responsibility. Someone reaching this goal should have at least a Bachelors Degree in Sciences. For example, a degree in Chemistry, Biology, Microbiology, Physics, and Genetics is helpful (Butler par. 3). The most used subject in this profession is Chemistry. Forensics deals with many chemicals and compounds that Chemistry can provide. Taking this course in high school can be very helpful toward the future. It gives you the basic foundation of the real deal of college Chemistry. “Taking a law class would benefit a person in forensic science so you have a broad idea of the possible outcome” (Pauly). This career takes a lot of time and requires patience. In addition, it is a very ethical job that needs constant opinions.
Lena Butler from the Health & Drug Testing Information Center Organization describes how a high sense of curiosity and ability to ask good questions can help in the long run with analyzing evidence (par. 5). Evidence is the biggest part in convicting criminals accused of a crime. In short, if there is no evidence to provide, there is no case. “Public Speaking and Writing is very much involved during a case” (Pauly). Being a forensic scientist involves being able to create a very detailed report and presenting evidence. A forensic specialist will meet new people with various backgrounds and work close with others. It is a “hands on profession,” which has a high level of peer projects, or a case assigned to a group (Butler. par 4). This career is never the same every day; it either takes place at the lab, at a crime scene, or in court. Forensic personnel are never tied down to a desk. The main benefit is knowing the hard work is being done and successfully putting someone behind bars. It gives great satisfaction motivating someone to work harder. Studying and meeting these requirements helps prepare someone in dealing with the day-to-day duties in the career field.
From the lab to the crime scene the duties vary with every case. The casework involves analyses of any controlled substance and any other substance found on at the scene. Other analyses include identification of bodily fluids, the comparison of hair, fibers, blood splatter, footprints, and tire marks, and a toxicology analysis of body fluids.
According to The U.S. Department of Justice, a forensic scientist will aid local law enforcement agencies with various crime scenes (3). Careful documentation of all evidence is important to enusre the accuracy of a case. Laboratory procedures maintain the security of evidence so that no one can or will tamper with the evidence. Once all evidence is collected it is reviewed. A well-written report is based from the interpretation of the observations the forensic scientist has made. Many times, it takes a group to make a conclusion in a case. Other professionals such as medical or law enforcement specialists can help in determining the outcome. It is not uncommon to testifiy as an expert witness for a case. Lawyers usually rely on those holding a PhD in forensics to testify so they can clearly explain the confusing details to the jury. Employees have regular phone calls with State Police officers and in person. Communicating with others give the advangate of having other opinions about a single case. Contatcing people having expierecned something that is just happing to a new Forensic Scientist can be helpful in finding the correct way to finish or continue a case.
Afterwards, the clean up will start with maintaining all the equipment. All tools used in the case are to be clean and steril again. This prevents any cross contamination for the next case.
New techniques have to be tested and perfected to have the highest success rate in the form of a conviction.
The building blocks to forensic science are the history, benefits, and day-to-day duties of a forensic scientist. The history of this science begins with some of the oldest technique of forensics, but the basic concepts are still used today. It excells to the study of DNA and evolves into a more exact science. Courts rely more and more on the science of DNA and the need to advance technology in this area increases. The benefits of forensic science are the worker is never tied down to one certain area. They will be in constant contact with different agencies, and will have continious advice from others. The degrees that are helpful for this career include Chemistry, Biology, Microbiology, and Physics. Day-to-day duties include lab work, evidence storage, on scene work, and testifying in court. Also, ensuring the tools used are sanitary and stored properly as with the evidence. It takes an honest, dedicated, and hard working person to fullfill the position of forensic science.