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Forensic Science and Criminal Investigations, Research Paper Example

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Words: 1851

Research Paper

Table of Contents

Title                                                                                                                         Page

  1. Introduction………………………………………………………..   2
  2. Areas in Forensic Science………………………………………… 3-4
  3. Criminalistics……………………………………………………… 4-5
  4. Forensic Chemistry……………………………………………….. 5-6
  5. Forensic Botany and Entomology………………………………… 6
  6. Forensic Odontology………………………………………………               6-7
  7. Forensic Pathology……………………………………………….. 7
  8. Areas of Concern in Forensic Science…………………………… 7-8
  9. Conclusion……………………………………………………….. 8
  10. References……………………………………………………….. 9

Introduction

The purpose of criminal investigation is to obtain any physical evidence in order to complete an investigation that results in justice. (Miller, 2003)  The use of science in a criminal investigation has advanced profoundly in the past decade and is known as Forensic Science.  The proper collection of physical evidence in a crime scene allows scientists to analyze the evidence and perform the forensic scientific methods in order to provide useful information for criminal investigations. This paper describes how Forensic Science is linked to criminal investigations and how the different areas in Forensic Science are used to analyze evidence obtaining in a criminal investigation.

Criminal investigations begin at a crime scene.  It is at the crime scene where information must be obtained in order to reveal the exact nature of the criminal activity, as well as the individuals whom where involved (National Research Council, 2009).  All individuals involved in a criminal activity, whether the suspect or the victim, leave evidences at a crime science, such as blood, skin cells, fingerprints, saliva, hair, footprints, cloth fibers, tire prints, weapons, photographs, paper, handwriting, voice messages, and residuals from arson or gunshots (National Research Council, 2009).  It is up to the crime scene investigators to collect this evidence in a proper procedure manner and send the evidence to the forensic laboratory for analysis.

Areas in Forensic Science

There are a variety of areas in forensic science that are extremely useful in helping a criminal investigation.  In fact, without these forensic science areas, cases probably would not be closed.  In addition, forensic science offers concrete evidence and support to criminal investigations.  Therefore, the current and emerging areas in forensic science are crucial to the criminal cases. The areas in forensic science range from a variety of subjects and each of these subjects has its own type of scientific method it uses in regard to scientific investigations, therefore, the type of forensic area used in an criminal investigation depends on the type of evidence that was obtained at the crime scene.  For instance, the different types of scientific areas are criminalistics, forensic chemistry, forensic botany, forensic entomology, forensic odontology, and forensic pathology.  These areas are responsible for analyzing evidence such as biological, controlled substances, friction ridge analysis, shoeprints and tire tracks, tool mark and firearms identification, hair analysis, fiber analysis, questioned document examination, paint and coatings, explosives and fire debris, forensic odontology, bloodstain pattern analysis, time of death, and cause of death.  (National Research Council, 2009)

Criminalistics

Biological evidence is analyzed by Forensic Biologists, which is part of the criminalistics group.   Forensic biology deals with genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology.  More commonly, forensic biology studies blood and any type of physiological substances obtained at the crime scene, such as blood, semen, saliva, vaginal secretions, fecal material, hair, urine and bone.  (National Center for Forensic Science, 2012)  Forensic biologists use these samples and perform DNA analyses to pinpoint an individual to the crime scene. There are many types of crime scenes in which biological evidence is necessary, such as homicides, assaults, rape or other sexual assaults, criminal paternity, terrorism, crimes against property, burglary, mass fatalities and motor vehicle incidents. (National Center for Forensic Science, 2012)  DNA results are indicated in a scientific report and statistically analyzed. The use of a DNA match in a Court is used and is successful because the following is standard, “The DNA results are 5 trillion times more likely if the questioned sample originated from the suspect than if it had originated from a randomly chosen unrelated individual from the population (National Center for Forensic Science, 2012).”

Trace evidence is another part of the criminalistics area in which samples, such as hairs, fibers, paints, explosives, glass, filaments, footwear, tire marks, arson debris, acids, and unknowns are analyzed using different types of methods such as stereoscopic microscopes, polarized microscopes, ultraviolet microscopes, scanning electron microscopes, Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry, Gas Chromatography, and Ion Chromatography.  (USLegal.com, 2012)

Impression and Pattern evidence is another area in criminalistics which forensic scientists analyze samples for criminal investigations.  Impression evidence occurs when two objects come together and create an impression, such as fingerprints or marks on a bullet from a gun.  Pattern evidence is used to compare things such as shoeprints or soles in order to establish the type of shoe, model or size.  (National Institute of Justice, 2011)  Ballistics is also used in criminal investigations to analyze gunshot residue and particles from the bullet or residues on the shooter’s hand.  Ballistics department used the scanning electron microscope to determine the composition of the residue or particles.  (Forensic Analytical Specialties, Inc., 2004)

Forensic Chemistry

Forensics Chemistry deals with the analysis of controlled substances and toxicology.  Controlled substances are types of drugs indicated through the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.  (Schwabe et al., 2001)  The forensic chemists analyze types of samples such as blood, bodily fluids and tissue in order to detect the presence of alcohol, drugs or poison. (Dillon, 1999) It has been indicated that submissions of evidence for tests to include blood alcohol and toxicology make up 11 percent and 7 percent of all submitted evidence to forensic crime labs. (Schwabe et al., 2001)

Forensic Botany and Entomology

Forensic Botany is a new area in forensics used for criminal investigations.  Botanists are used to analyze plant material using the same types of methods such as biologists, such as DNA techniques and genomic fingerprinting.  These types of techniques and results can be used to show a connection of the suspect to a crime scene. (San Francisco University, 2012) Forensic Entomology is another area in forensics that is emerging to help solve crimes.  Forensic entomology uses the insects found as evidence at the crime scene.  The insects can accumulate on or around the victim’s body.  This is helpful because entomologists can determine the time of death, if the body was moved and if drugs or toxins were involved in the crime (ASISTM).  Therefore, forensic entomology is mostly used to help with murder cases; however, it has been used in child neglect cases where the child has cuts or sores that have become infested with insects, damaged food products and damaged buildings due to insects.  The most useful tool in forensic entomology is determining the time of death.  The entomologists can do this by evaluating each species of fly insect and the time it takes to reach the body and its rate of reproduction. (ASISTM)

Forensic Odontology

Forensic Odontology is an area of forensic science that uses dentistry to help in criminal investigations.  The dentists evaluate evidence and give their results in cases regarding human identification. The only variable to this type of forensic analysis is that it requires dental records.  The reason that dental records are important in the identification is that sometimes body features are lost due to decomposition or incineration and visual identification is no longer available.  Using dental records are therefore an easy and accurate method for identification. (Al-Ahmad, 2009)

Forensic Pathology

Forensic pathology studies the human remains gathered during a criminal investigation.  Forensic pathologists perform autopsies on these remains in order to determine the cause of death, which was usually fierce and premature. (National Institute of Justice, 2011b)  The pathologist are required to examine the entire body along with the notes from the crime scene in order to determine if the death occurred by criminal nature.  The pathologists usually compare the individual’s medical history with any findings.  Sometimes the pathologists are able to obtain bullets or identify wounds in considering the cause of death. (National Institute of Justice, 2011b)

Areas of Concern in Forensic Science

Although the variance of areas in forensic science offer many possibilities of analyzing evidence, when working with criminal investigations it is important to indicate the questions that need to be addressed before submitting evidence for analysis.  For instance, the National Research Council (2009) indicates that some analyses may answer particular questions; however, not the answer to the question for the case, like linking a specimen to a specific individual instead of providing characteristics of the individual from the specimen.  In addition, evidence analyzed by forensic scientists that are used in the justice system must be properly processed.  For instance, insufficient drug samples or contaminated samples may compromise the use in the criminal case. (National Research Council, 2009)  There are also inaccuracies regarding the scientific methodology and the human error in the interpretation of the results and bias.  The National Research Council (2009) suggests that there needs to be adequate working procedures and standards for each forensic discipline in order to decrease any type of error.  They also suggest that the forensic departments should perform their work independently from the law departments. If the two areas coincide, law departments may have interest in a specific suspect and are trying to put effort into prosecuting that suspect.  Therefore, it is important for the two areas to remain separate and for the forensics to supply the results without any bias. (National Research Council, 2009)

Conclusion

In conclusion, Forensic Science can offer a substantial amount of support to criminal investigations.  The range of disciplines in forensic science makes it possible to evaluate and analyze every type of sample or evidence collected at a crime scene. This paper described the areas of forensic science in regard to scientific fields, such as biology or chemistry.  There are several other types of fields in forensics that are used in criminal investigations such as accounting, psychology, mobile device, photography, and engineering.  Although all areas in forensic science are used to serve in the court system, there is still a need for forensics to continually evaluate and update their working procedures and standards.  It is crucial that every piece of evidence submitted to a forensic laboratory follows procedure independently of the acting law enforcement.  Proper use of forensics in law can help determine questions in cases as well as prosecute criminals.

References

Al-Ahmad, S. (2009). Forensic Odontology. Smile Dental Journal. 4(1):22-24.

Dillon, H.  (1999). Forensics. A Career In.  Occupational Outlook Quarterly. Fall: 1-7.

Forensic Analytical Specialties, Inc. (2004).  Ballistics and Forensic Science.  Retrieved on February 10, 2012 from: http://www.forensica.com/ballistics-and-forensic-science.htm.

Miller, M. (2003). Crime Scene Investigation. CRC Press LLC. pp.15-135  Retrieved on February 11, 2012 from: http://www.bios.niu.edu/naples/geol570/CrimeSceneInvestigation.pdf.

National Center for Forensic Science. (2012). Biological Evidence.  Retrieved on February 10, 2012 from: http://www.ncfs.org/bio_evd.html.

National Institute of Justice.  (2011a). Impression and Pattern Evidence.  Retrieved on February 10, 2012 from: http://www.nij.gov/topics/forensics/evidence/impression/impression.htm.

National Institute of Justice. (2011b). Forensic Pathology.  Retrieved on February 10, 2012 from: http://www.nij.gov/topics/forensics/evidence/pathology/welcome.htm.

National Research Council (Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Sciences

Community).  (2009).  Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward. National Academies Press. 352 pgs. This PDF is available from the National Academies Press at: http://www.nap.edu/catalog/12589.html

San Francisco University.  (2011). Forensic Botany.  Retrieved on February 10, 2012 from: http://www.sfu.ca/biology/faculty/kermode/laboratory/forensic-botany.htm

Schwabe, W., Davis, L.M., Jackson, B.A.  (2001). Challenges and Choices for Crime-fighting Technology: Federal Support of State and Local Law Enforcement.  RAND Corp.

U.S. Legal.com.  (2012).  Trace Evidence Law & Legal Definition.  Retrieved on February 10, 2012 from: http//definitions.uslegal.com/t/trace-evidence/.

ASISTM.  Forensic Entomology Use of insects to help solve crime. Forensic Investigations. Retrieved on February 10, 2012 from: http://www.clt.uwa.edu.au/__data/page/112507/fse07_forensic_entomology.pdf.

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