Question 1. Based on what you have read and studied in this unit, how would you define forensic science in your own words? Why is the analysis of forensic evidence important within law enforcement?
Your response must be at least 200 words in length.
Question 2. Briefly discuss the origins of forensic science and the development of crime laboratories in the United States.
Your response must be at least 300 words in length.
Course Textbook: Saferstein, R., & Roy, T. (2021). Criminalistics: An introduction to forensic science (13th ed.). Pearson. https://online.vitalsource.com/#/books/9780135268407 Pages 1-25
Please use Study Guide and Course Textbook
Question 1. Based on what you have read and studied in this unit, how would you define forensic science in your own words? Why is the analysis of forensic evidence important within law enforcement? Yo
Welcome to Unit I: Introduction to Forensics. 1 The field of forensic sciences has only been in existence since the latter part of the 18th century. There are many individuals who have been important contributors to forensic sciences, from Mathieu Orfila — who lived 1787 to 1853 — to Edmond Locard — who lived from 1877 to 1966 — with many other significant important tools and techniques that were developed by these gentlemen as well as others all along the way. Each of these individuals has propelled the study of forensic science beyond being just a tool to be used in investigations. They have also professionalized the scientific study of tools and techniques used to solve crimes. Because of these types of individuals, crime laboratories were established to not only analyze evidence but to process it for investigative and case analysis. Ultimately, the collection of specimens from a crime scene have to be reviewed, processed, and turned into evidence. Forensic science is what turns specimens into evidence. 2 So, what is forensic science? Well, we have definitions and the scope of exactly what forensic science entails. According to the National Institute of Justice (n.d. -b): forensic science is the application of science such as physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, and engineering to matters of law. Forensic science can help investigators understand how blood spatter patterns occur. That’s part of physics. Learn the composition in the source of evidence such as drugs, or trace materials. That’s chemistry. Or even determine the identity of an unknown suspect. (para. 1) That’s biology. 3 Forensic science plays a vital role in the criminal justice system by providing scientifically based information through the analysis of physical evidence. During an investigation, evidence is collected at a crime scene, or it’s collected from a person. It’s then analyzed in a crime laboratory. Then, the next step is that the results are presented in court. Each crime scene is unique, and each case presents its own challenges. 4 So, we’ve answered the definition and the scope of what forensic science is, and you’ve heard the word evidence . So, what is evidence? So, let’s take a look. According to the National Institute of Justice (n.d. -a): Evidence refers to information or objects that may be admitted into court for judges and juries to consider when hearing a case. Evidence can come from a variety of sources, from genetic material or trace chemicals to dental history or even fingerprints. Evidence can serve many roles in investigation such as to trace an illicit substance, identify remains, or even reconstruct a crime. (para. 1) 5 Functions of forensics — there are many various functions of forensics such as the analysis of physical evidence. The collection and ultimate analysis of physical evidence doesn’t end just there. What is collected and processed then has to be analyzed, which means it must be tied to the various and often disparate bits and pieces of evidence and information that’s collected. Additionally, to understand the impact of forensic science, you must understand what constitutes forensic evidence and investigations. 6 So, analysts, technicians, and scientists — each of these people are involved in a forensic unit, and they should have critical thinking skills. It’s one of the most significant and essential skills to have as an analyst. Analysis of information is essential in not only solving a crime but also in prosecuting those responsible for committing the crime. Therefore, forensic science units have analysts who perform necessary and vital parts of the investigative process. Analysts help solve criminal investigations by producing intelligence products that assist investigators in detecting, preventing, and responding to criminal activities. Their performance increases the ability to prosecute criminals but, moreover, to detect criminals. Analysts provide factual and expert testimonies as well as organized evidence for court. Ultimately, the analytical function supports the chief executive of the department or the agency and the overall mission. 7 Analysts have the ability to perform a myriad of tasks well beyond the collection of evidence. They are also able to proactively inform law enforcement officers of criminal trends and patterns as well as be able to develop threat analysis, vulnerability analysis, and even risk assessments. Training of other law enforcement and analytical personnel in the methods and the techniques, as well as being aware to other criminal activities and trends. Analysts assist in the development of computerized databases to organize information as well as intelligence, which includes systems that collect, collate, retrieve, and disseminate information. In addition, analysts foster relationships with other state, local, tribal, regional as well as federal agencies and, in some cases, international agencies in order to efficiently assist in multijurisdictional investigations or other complex cases. One just has to review the news and find cases in which law enforcement asks for the public’s help. Intelligence analysts will often take this information even though it may be disparate and in bits and pieces and put them together in order to give a large picture. The last two things that analysts bring to bear including providing compliance with local, state, as well as federal regulations and supporting fusion centers through investigative information — not only producing information but disseminating 8 information to those in need. Providing accurate, timely, and relevant analysis is an essential and critical component in crime prevention and crime fighting efforts. 8 Crime laboratories: The first U.S. -based crime laboratory was operated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). And at present, the FBI laboratory is the world’s largest. It performs more than 1 million examinations each year. Federal, state, county, local, and even city crime laboratories each have their own and often very specific capabilities inherent to that agency. There are even international crime labs that are available to countries that don’t necessarily have their own national laboratory or even a local laboratory within their country or a neighboring country. Crime laboratories have various units, including physical sciences, biology, firearms, document examination, as well as photography. Other laboratories may have additional units such as toxicology, latent fingerprints, polygraphs, voice analysis, and other crime science investigations. Fingerprints, chemical and biological specimens and even IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that are commonly used by terrorists throughout the world are sent to labs for analysis by scientists as well as intelligence analysts. 9 Crime labs are not just for the processing of evidence. Many crime labs operate independently, and they also conduct research and development. According to the National Institute of Justice (n.d. -b), forensic programs focus on both basic and applied scientific research with the intent to accomplish one of the following or all of the following: direct the findings of basic scientific research and broader scientific fields that are applicable to forensic science; apply forensic science research to the development of highly discriminating, accurate, reliable cost effective, rapid methods for the identification, analysis and interpretation of physical evidence; expand the scientific basis of forensic methods; produce useful materials, devices, systems, or even methods that have the potential for forensic application; increase the body of knowledge to guide and inform forensic science policy and practice. Ultimately, what that means is that the forensic sciences just don’t look at evidence in order to try to solve a crime. They look at, as it said earlier, they look at the broader scientific field that can they find some test that is more accurate, something that is more reliable. 10 Think about fingerprinting and where we had come from the 1950s and 60s when individuals had to take a magnifying glass and chart out the uniqueness of each individual’s’ fingerprint. Was that a reliable source? What about being able to disseminate that information from, say, the FBI in Washington, D.C., to a local law enforcement agency in Southern California? What about the cost effectiveness of running a DNA test? What used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars has been reduced effectively into hundreds of dollars and that those tests are more reliable. The rapid methods for the identification analysis and interpretation of physical evidence where it used to take months, if not years, now takes hours, if not days. So, be thinking about how forensic science has really evolved with research and development in mind. 10 It was not until the 1960s that crime labs were really emphasized. This was after the Supreme Court had placed an emphasis on policing to present more scientifically evaluated evidence. Therefore, crime labs are relatively a new phenomenon. Many crime labs perform complex areas of study and processing of evidence, while the majority will perform basic services, and that’s if they’re a full service laboratory. Each crime lab, as stated above, includes various units, which have their own roles and responsibilities in processing evidence, and many are highly specialized. There are also some optional -type units, which are dependent upon the size and, of course, the budget of a department or an agency. Basic services will or could include a physical science unit, a biology unit, firearms and tool marks, a document examination, as well as photography. You’ve heard throughout this presentation really a longer list. By finding and researching your local law enforcement agency to see what they have in terms of forensic science or a forensic department will really expand your knowledge overall of what is out there for law enforcement to use. Although most localities have a crime science investigations unit, it is still listed by many as an optional service and is staffed as a collateral duty for many of the support staff, say, for evidence collection or forensic technicians from a full service unit. 11 The Frye standard: So, whether the processing is done by an intelligence analyst, a regular analyst, a technician, or even a scientist, each have to contend with the determination of the admissibility of evidence while adhering to the scientific method and validating their findings according to science. According to the Forensic Science Simplified website, the Frye standard stemmed from the 1923 case of Frye versus the United States, in which the District of Columbia court rejected the scientific validity of a lie detector test, or a polygraph (National Forensic Science Technology Center, n.d.). Because the technology at the time did not have the significant general acceptance, what the court did provide as a precedent was the guidance for determining admissibility of scientific examination by stating that it was difficult to define when the scientific principle or a scientific discovery crosses from the experimental to the demonstrable stages. 12 So, according to the District Court of Columbia, the Circuit Court, in 1923, which stated somewhere in this twilight zone, the evidential force of the principle must be recognized (Frye v. United States, 1923). And while the courts will go a long way in admitting experimental testimony, reduced from a well -recognized scientific principle or discovery, the thing from which the deduction is made must be sufficiently established to have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it belongs. Ultimately, when applying the Frye standard, the court had to make a decision, and then place the burden on the forensic science. That was regardless of whether the forensic scientist was on the side of the plaintiff, which is usually the state or the people, or the defendant, which could be an individual, and their defense team hires an outside expert. If the technique or the principle used was generally accepted by the scientific community, it would, therefore, start to allow precedent to be entered into each court case that it was needed for. So, for many years, the federal courts, and even some states, allowed the Frye standard to always prevail. Under the Frye standard, it was not enough that a qualified individual expert, or even several experts testified that a particular technique is valid. Times change. This is why forensic science has not only a duty to collect and process from a scientific method 13 evidence, but that’s why it has the obligation to also do research and development to find even better ways — more reliable ways, more accurate ways — in order to conduct evidence analysis. 13 In the end, forensic science is a broad discipline within the criminal justice system. Ranging from the principles of evidence collection to the scientific processing of said evidence, to piece together the complexities from biology, physical, or even to mechanical matter. A significant amount of criminal cases each year go unsolved due to the various reasons, many of which may rest on the evidence that was collected at a crime scene or off of an individual. And that it’s not processed, or that it’s not able to be processed due to the lack of suitable technology to do so. We saw this with DNA — that many cases early on during DNA analysis wasn’t able to be processed in a timely fashion, let alone, it was so costly. Then, there was the accuracy issue. So, forensic science will continue to evolve as fast as some technologies are advancing, but there’s always going to remain a gap in that knowledge. 14 15