From Princeton University (US) School of Engineering and Applied Science : “Researchers shrink camera to the size of a salt grain” — sciencesprings

School of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton University (US) November 29, 2021 Molly Sharlach Researchers at Princeton University and the University of Washington have developed an ultracompact camera the size of a coarse grain of salt. The system relies on a technology called a metasurface which is studded with 1.6 million cylindrical posts and […]

From Princeton University (US) School of Engineering and Applied Science : “Researchers shrink camera to the size of a salt grain” — sciencesprings

Decomposition via Forensic’s blog

After Rigor Mortis, Livor Mortis, and Algor Mortis, decomposition is the fourth sign of death. The length of time it takes for a substance to decompose varies greatly depending on the climate. In comparison to a northern climate, where the same amount of decomposition could take a week or longer, hot, subtropical areas can produce […]

Decomposition — Forensic’s blog

Book Review ~ Bodies of Evidence via BookZone

Bodies of Evidence: How Forensic Science Solves Crime

by Brian Innes & Lucy Doncaster


Synopsis: Bodies of Evidence is packed with intriguing case histories involving an astonishing variety of forensic evidence.

Criminal investigators have learned how to interpret vital testimony that is written in the language of fingerprints and flakes of skin, gradients of teeth and bone, splashes of blood, flecks of paint, traces of chemicals, a splinter of glass, or a uniquely striated bullet. Bodies of Evidence includes various cases from around the world, including O.J. Simpson, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, “The Mad Bomber”George Metesky, Tommie Lee Andrews, “The Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez, Jack Unterweger, Lee Harvey Oswald, “The Boston Strangler” Albert DeSalvo, Jeffrey MacDonald, the Lockerbie bombing, “The Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski, and many more. The book also chronicles and evaluates the role of those who have made the most significant contributions in the varied fields of toxicology, serology, fingerprinting, facial reconstruction, forensic ballistics, psychological profiling, and DNA fingerprinting. The text is illustrated throughout with 200 photographs, some of which have rarely been seen before.


My thoughts: I liked the different people this book talked about that I hadn’t read about before. Much of the forensics history and information I was fairly familiar with. The rest of it was interesting and informative. The stories about the killers were good, including the better known ones. Lots of phots included in this book, some a bit graphic. I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.



Publisher: Amber Books – 256 pages

Publication Date: Nov 16th, 2021

My rating: 4/5 STARS


About the author: Brian Innes trained as a scientist and worked as a biochemical researcher before turning to writing. He published a large number of articles and books on forensic science. He died in 2014.

Lucy Doncaster is the editor and author of numerous history and popular science books, with topics ranging from the greatest mysteries of the unexplained, Churchill’s army, and the history of the world to DNA, big data, and deep space.


Bodies of Evidence: How Forensic Science Solves Crime by Brian Innes & Lucy Doncaster Synopsis: Bodies of Evidence is packed with intriguing case histories involving an astonishing variety of forensic evidence. Criminal investigators have learned how to interpret vital testimony that is written in the language of fingerprints and flakes of skin, gradients of teeth and […]

Book Review ~ Bodies of Evidence — BookZone

FORENSICS IN THE COURTROOM via Manisha Nandan

IT IS A MISTAKE TO THEORIZE BEFORE YOU HAVE ALL EVIDENCE. IT BIASES THE JUDGMENT – Sherlock Holmes

FORENSICS IN THE COURTROOM — Manisha Nandan

[ CRIME NEVER DIES – PART 3 ]

UDGMENT – Sherlock Holmes

See the source image

When someone is charged with a crime, the prosecution and defence typically call in witnesses to testify about the guilt or innocence of the person who has been accused. One of the most important players in all this testimony often isn’t a person at all: it’s the forensic evidence.

And these evidences are obtained by scientific methods such as ballistics, blood test, and DNA test and further used in court proceeding . Forensic evidence often helps to establish the guilt or innocence of possible suspects.

So its Analysis is very important as they are used in the investigation and prosecution of civil as well as criminal matters. Moreover Forensic evidence can be used to link crimes that are thought to be related to one another. For example, DNA evidence can link one offender to several different crimes or crime scenes and this linking of crimes helps the police authorities to narrow the range of possible suspects and to establish patterns of for crimes to identify and prosecute suspect.

CASES REQUIRING FORENSIC EVIDENCE
Forensic evidence is useful in helping solve the most violent and brutal of cases, as well as completely nonviolent cases related to crimes such as fraud and hacking.

If a decomposing body is found in the woods somewhere, forensic scientists can use DNA, dental records, and other evidence to identify the person, determine the cause of death, and sometimes determine if the body contains material from another person who may have been present at the time of death.

Investigators often look for forensic evidence in cases where sexual assault is suspected. In some cases, DNA evidence can prove or disprove allegations of rape or child molestation.

Forensics are also useful in drug cases. Scientists can test unidentified substances that were found on an individual to confirm whether or not they are cocaine, heroin, marijuana, or other controlled substances. Investigators use forensic toxicology to determine whether a driver was impaired at the time they were involved in an accident.

The field of forensics isn’t only limited to evidence obtained from people’s bodies. Ballistics (otherwise known as weapons testing) can tell investigators a lot about cases where gunfire was involved. Did a bullet come from a particular gun? Where was the shooter standing? How many shots did they fire? Ballistics can help answer all of these questions. Another area of forensic evidence lies within the circuits of our phones and computers. Those who commit cyber crimes leave behind traces of their activities in databases and documents scattered throughout the digital world. Forensic computer specialists know how to sort through the information to discover the truth.

However ,The question of admissibility of evidence is whether the evidence is relevant to a fact in issue in the case. Admissibility is always decided by the judge and all relevant evidence is potentially admissible, subject to common law and statutory rules on exclusion. Relevant evidence is evidence of facts in issue and evidence of sufficient relevance to prove or disprove a fact in issue.

As per Section 45 of Indian evidence Act 1872- When the Court has to form and opinion upon a point of foreign law or of science or art, or as to identity of handwriting or finger impressions, the opinions upon that point of persons specially skilled in such foreign law, science or art, or in questions as to identity of handwriting or finger impressions are relevant facts. Such persons are called experts. Further as per Section 46 of Indian evidence Act 1872- it is stated that facts, not otherwise relevant, are relevant if they support or are inconsistent with the opinions of experts, when such opinions are relevant. Though there is no specific DNA legislation enacted in India, Sec.53 and Sec. 54 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 provides for DNA tests impliedly and they are extensively used in determining complex criminal problems.

Sec. 53 deals with examination of the accused by medical practitioner at the request of police officer if there are reasonable grounds to believe that an examination of his person will afford evidence as to the commission of the offence. Sec. 54 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 further provides for the examination of the arrested person by the registered medical practitioner at the request of the arrested person.

The law commission of India in its 37th report stated that to facilitate effective investigation, provision has been made authorizing an examination of arrested person by a medical practitioner, if from the nature of the alleged offence or the circumstances under which it is alleged to have been committed, there are reasonable grounds for believing that an examination of the person will afford evidence. Sec. 27(1) of Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 says when a investigating officer request the court of CJM or the court of CMM in writing for obtaining sample of hand writing, finger prints, foot prints, photographs, blood, saliva, semen, hair, voice of any accused person, reasonable suspect to be involved in the commission of an offence under this act. It shall be lawful for the court of CJM or the court of CMM to direct that such samples shall be given by the accused person to the police officer either through a medical practitioner or otherwise as the case may be.

Section 65(B) of Indian Evidence Act says that electronic records needs to be certified by a person occupying a responsible official position for being admissible as evidence in any court proceedings.
So as the capabilities of forensic science have expanded and evolved over the years, facing a number of significant challenges.

Then also a main weakness is in its susceptibility to cognitive bias. Today, despite remaining a powerful element within the justice system, and playing a key role in establishing and reconstructing events, forensic science much like any scientific domain, faces weaknesses and limitations.

These issues can arise throughout an investigation; from when the forensic evidence is first collected at the scene of the crime, until the evidence is presented at court.

So there is utmost need of forensic science because of reasons like –
The need for the application of science in criminal investigation has arisen from the following factors:
1. Social Changes:
The society is undergoing drastic social changes at a very rapid pace. India has changed from a colonial subject race to a democratic republic. Sizeable industrial complex has sprung up. The transport facilities have been revolutionized. There is a growing shift from a rural society to an urban one. These changes have made the old techniques of criminal investigation obsolete. In the British days the police was so much feared that once it had laid its hands upon an individual, he would ‘confess’ to any crime, he may not have even known. The fear is vanishing now. The use of ‘third degree’ techniques used in those days does not find favour with the new generation of police officers and judges.

2. Hiding facilities:
The quick means of transport and high density of population in cities have facilitated the commission of crimes. The criminal can hide himself in a corner of a city or move away to thousands of miles in a few hours. He, thus often escapes apprehension and prosecution.

3. Technical knowledge:
The technical knowledge of an average man has increased tremendously in recent years. The crime techniques are getting refined. The investigating officer, therefore, needs modern methods to combat the modern criminal.

4. Wide field: The field of activities of the criminal is widening at a terrific rate. Formely, the criminals were usually local, now we find that national or international criminal is a common phenomenon. Smuggling,drug trafficking ,financial frauds and forgeries offer fertile and ever expanding fields.

5. Better Evidence: The physical evidence evaluated by an expert is objective. If a fingerprint is found at the scene of crime, it can belong to only one person. If this person happens to be be the suspect, he must account for its presence at the scene. Likewise, if a bullet is recovered from a dead body, it can be attributed to only one firearm. If this firearm happens to be that of the accused , he must account account for its involvement in the crime. Such evidence is always verifiable.

In reality, those rare few cases with good forensic evidence are the ones that make it to court.—Pat Brown

@MANISHANANDAN

[ CRIME NEVER DIES – PART 3 ] IT IS A CAPITAL MISTAKE TO THEORIZE BEFORE YOU HAVE ALL EVIDENCE. IT BIASES THE JUDGMENT – Sherlock Holmes When someone is charged with a crime, the prosecution and defence typically call in witnesses to testify about the guilt or innocence of the person who has been […]

FORENSICS IN THE COURTROOM — Manisha Nandan

The Risks of Cutting Corners in Forensics via Jonathan Desverney @ USA News

The Risks of Doing Forensics on the Cheap - featured image

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With the demise of the internationally renowned public sector UK Forensic Science Service in 2012 came the promulgation and growth of a new competitive marketplace.

Private sector companies working in a hastily drawn up framework for forensic science provision were invited into rounds of competitive tendering that were driven by the police service.

These were based on the notion that the Forensic Science Service had been inefficient, delivering forensic science analysis in an expensive and untimely manner.

However, high-quality forensic science provision was always costly and the British police service wanted to operate in a new culture of cost reduction and value for money. They wanted full control of their spending and that is understandable.

But with the rise of competitive tendering the provision of forensic science was commoditized. Specific work and tests in each forensic discipline were itemized and bid for by the companies.

The police forces guaranteed specific volumes of testing to the companies in order to get the best prices and the police began to dictate to the companies what tests they required against the ‘pricelist’ when potential forensic evidence had been collected from crime scenes.

The police service also determined to undertake certain basic scientific tasks themselves. By bringing these in house they could further save money and reduce the burden on their budgets.

This new and cheaper approach has been in place for nine years and has been subjected to comment by critics and supporters alike. In 2018 one major player in the new UK forensic market, Key Forensic Services Ltd, collapsed. They had won a significant share of the available forensic science work, but couldn’t sustain the service.

Many working in forensic science warned that the quality of expert analysis and interpretation would be lost as scientists would no longer be able to refer their findings to colleagues across overlapping disciplines in order to provide a holistic approach to obtaining the best evidence from the forensic samples presented.

This would inevitably lead to the loss of the opportunities for contextualization of the evidential findings for use in the justice process.

In addition the fragmentation of the industry has seen many expert scientists set up their own niche services and struggle to get regular work. Some left the industry altogether.

There has never been a properly constituted academic analysis of what these changes have meant to UK forensic science provision and what the impact has been.

Until now.

In a comprehensive and thorough six-year research programme, Dr Karen Richmond from the University of Copenhagen undertook a long and objective period of fieldwork and analysis.

Interviews were conducted not only with forensic scientists, but also with allied institutional agents including senior professional members of the judiciary of England and Wales, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Office of the Forensic Science Regulator, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Royal Society, the UK Accreditation Service, the Metropolitan Police Service, and the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences.

Her findings are both startling and important. They point to a thoroughly dysfunctional marketplace that has failed to harmonize the array of tests and reports in a way that should have led to the configuration of a homogenous service from each provider to all police forces.

Instead, the exact opposite has occurred, with very different requirements being demanded of providers by each separate police force so that scientists are “reinventing the wheel” for each customer.

Furthermore the scientific strategy for the analysis and reporting of forensic samples is set by the police with little or no scientific training. They will perhaps have undertaken Crime Scene Investigation training, but that doesn’t allow for the best objective understanding of what might work or not work in each case.

This can result in loss of opportunities as the scientists are often not able to question the police requirements and cannot make their own investigative assessments of what the best science is to be applied.

There has been a market push and perhaps an over reliance on DNA testing as the “go to” science, to the detriment of other scientific processes such as the searching for, collection of,  and analysis of fibers.

Indeed there are a host of critical findings that reflect negatively on the way the market has developed. Dr Richmond says in her report:

The data demonstrates not only how government agencies failed to adapt to the introduction of competitive tendering, but also how the market which developed in their wake began to influence, distort and reconfigure the very processes of forensic strategy-setting and analysis.

She goes on to say:

The results offer a compelling insight into the ways in which these agents have adapted to changing relations, shifting priorities, and the imposition of market logics within a sector unaccustomed to the obtrusions of economic efficiency and external regulation.

After nine years there are continuing tensions and frustrations. They are keenly felt by scientists and the companies providing forensic science services. These should not now be set aside as just another academic study.

Dr Richmond’s work has shown that in hindsight the implementation of the decision to restructure forensic science provision to the UK criminal justice system was flawed.

It perhaps should have never left the public sector in the first place, where in a government agency cost considerations would have remained secondary to the need to provide comprehensive criminal justice outcomes.

The US Perspective

In a recent column for The Crime Report “ Why We Need a Federal Forensic Science Agency,” I argued that forensic science provision in the U.S. cannot continue to support unvalidated and often junk science in its courts to the detriment of a fair and just criminal justice system. This remains the case.

However the UK seems to have also got things wrong. Not in the quality of work that is done by the forensic providers, as this is regulated and accredited to international standards;  but in the way that the science has been dumbed down by the police.

The emphasis on treating science as a sequence of commoditized testing processes has led to the inability of scientists to properly engage their expertise in support of criminal justice in the way they did when forensic science was delivered as a public sector service.

If the U.S. is eventually to embrace a nationally mandated federal forensic science system in the future,  then there are clear lessons to be learned from Dr Richmond’s research.

The application of forensic science to the justice process should be led by independent experts, working in a quality controlled environment, to provide the best evidence for the courts. A system that allows the police to control the work of scientists, without having recourse to the expert opinion of those scientists before the work is carried out, should not be the way to go.Gareth Bryon

Gareth Bryon

Indeed the UK police approach to seeking quick results cheaply from forensic science may one day mean that the best opportunities to secure a conviction in a high-profile case may go out of the window, because other potential evidence is overlooked or not considered based on cost.

This couldn’t happen in the U.S., could it?

Gareth Bryon is a former Detective Chief Superintendent who worked as a senior officer in the South Wales Police and the British Transport Police, where he led major crime investigation and forensic science services for over 30 years.

Independant Auditor vs. Forensic Accountant via Dee Studler

There is no single definition of forensic accounting, but what everyone agrees on is that forensic accounting involves applying accounting concepts and techniques to legal issues. It is a specialty that requires the integration of investigative, accounting and auditing skills. According to Dee Studler, founder of SDC CPAs, a global investigation and forensic accounting firm, […]

Forensic Accounting — Dee Studler

Forensic Science and its 9 Governing Principles via The Legal Conundrum

The word ‘forensic’ is derived from the Latin word ‘forensis’ that relates to a discussion or examination performed in public. Forensic science is the application of science and the scientific method to matters of law and resolution of legal conflicts. It is a multi-disciplinary subject which draws upon physics, chemistry, biology, computer science and other scientific principles and methods and is concerned with the recognition, identification, individualisation, and evaluation of physical evidence.

As society moves towards more scientific response to solving crime, significant advances have been made in the fields of serology, fingerprint and footprint analysis, handwriting analysis, ballistics and toxicology among others. Forensic scientists study and interpret the different types of evidence found at a crime scene. They employ techniques and tools for recovery and collection of crime scene evidence, so as to ensure that criminal evidence is recovered and retained without being contaminated and altered, packed and sent in a scientific and safe manner to the laboratory where the latest techniques are deployed and applied to extract prosecutable evidence that will link the evidence to the scene of crime and finally to the criminal so that he or she may be successfully prosecuted. Forensic scientists not only analyse and interpret evidence but also provide expert witness testimony in the Courts.

Forensic science has developed its own laws and principles. They guide the disciplines and methodologies of science in analysing the evidence impacting the proceedings in the Court of law. The following laws and principles are essential in crime scene investigation to link a suspect to the victim and the crime scene.

1. Locard’s Exchange Principle

Edmund Locard (1877-1966)
Edmund Locard (1877-1966)

Edmund Locard (1877-1966), a French scientist postulated the exchange principle in 1928 which asserts that every contact leaves a trace.

According to Locard, when a person or his instruments comes into contact with another person or object, a cross transfer of materials occur. They leave trace, and likewise pick up traces from the same contact. Such transfer or exchange may be large or small, visible or invisible, readily detectable or difficult to detect. It is the responsibility of the Investigating Officers to search, identify and collect such evidences.

Thus, a mutual exchange of traces takes place between the criminal, the victim and the objects involved in the crime. Every criminal can be linked to a crime by dust particles carried from the crime scene. For instance, in a case involving counterfeit coins, Locard asked the police to bring the three suspect’s clothing to his lab. After examination he recovered small metallic particles from the cloth material which made up the composition of the coins. Confronted with this evidence, the suspects were arrested and soon confessed to the crime.

2. Principle of Evidence Recovery

The principle of evidence recovery provides that no harm should be done to the evidence. Nothing should be added, lost, damaged or obliterated in the recovery process.

Careful attention should be taken to avoid contamination. Great care should be taken when there is a risk of losing or damaging evidence. Exhibit items need to be safely and securely packaged and transported to the laboratory.

3. Law of Individuality

Paul L. Kirk (1902-1970)
Paul L. Kirk (1902-1970)

Law of individuality is attributed to Paul L. Kirk (1902-1970) and provides that two objects may be indistinguishable; however no two objects are identical.

Individuality implies that every entity, whether person or object, can only be identical to itself and so is unique. It expresses that all articles or objects, man-made or natural, possess an individual character which under no circumstances is duplicated. Everything involved in a crime has an individuality which when established connects the crime to the criminal. The reasons for this could be either minor flaw present in the raw material, or imperfect stamping or variation in configuration of the crystals or substitution of some quantity of extraneous matter.

4. Law of Progressive Change

Law of progressive change provides that everything changes with the passage of time.

Change is inevitable. Different types of objects may take different time spans. Sample degrade with time, bodies decompose, firearm barrel loosen, tire tracks fade, metal objects rust. The scene of occurrence undergoes rapid changes.

5. Principle of Comparison

Principle of comparison asserts that only the likes can be compared. It emphasises the need of providing like samples and specimen for comparisons with the questioned items. A questioned hair can only be compared to another hair sample, likewise with blood samples, bite marks, tire marks, tool marks, etc.

Two objects are said to match when there are no unexplained, forensically significant differences between them.

If a comparison is conducted as the final and ultimate test, the rule is if in doubt, exclude. Whereas, if the comparison is conducted as a screening prior to the other tests, the rule is if in doubt, include.

6. Principle of Analysis

The principle of analysis stresses on the need of correct sampling and correct packing for effective use by experts. The quality of any analysis is determined by the quality of the sample under analysis, the chain of custody, and the expertise of the individual who analyses it.

The analysis can be no better than the sample analysed. Improper sampling and contamination render the best analysis useless.

7. Principle of Presentation

The principle of presentation provides that the laboratory report should be readily understandable and impartial. It should neither be understated, not overstated.

Complete disclosure should be made of all facts, assumptions, data, conclusions and interpretations.

8. Law of Probability

The law of probability asserts that all identification, definite or indefinite, is made, consciously or unconsciously, on the basis of probability.

Probability determines the chances of occurrence of a particular event in a particular way.

9. Law of Circumstantial Facts

The law of circumstantial facts has its basis in ‘facts do not lie, men can and do’.

The oral testimony depends upon the power of observation, assimilation and reproduction of the witness. It may be disturbed by rationality, external influence, suggestions, descriptions and opinions of others. Whereas factual evidence is free from these infirmities.

Thus, evidences given by victims or eye witnesses may not always be accurate. Sometimes they may intentionally lie or make up facts, or exaggerate or make assumptions or give evidence while having to rely on their poor senses.  On the other hand, evidence which gives a factual account e.g. based on investigation and evidence has a higher chance of being accurate and is more reliable.

The word ‘forensic’ is derived from the Latin word ‘forensis’ that relates to a discussion or examination performed in public. Forensic science is the application of science and the scientific method to matters of law and resolution of legal conflicts. It is a multi-disciplinary subject which draws upon physics, chemistry, biology, computer science and other […]

Forensic Science and its Governing Principles and Laws — The Legal Conundrum

Single Fingerprint At A Crime Scene Detects Class A Drug Usage via Uncover Reality

The latest findings show that with clever science, a single fingerprint left at a crime scene could be used to determine whether someone has touched or ingested class A drugs.

In a paper published in Royal Society of Chemistry’s Analyst journal, a team of researchers at the University of Surrey, in collaboration with the National Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry Imaging at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and Ionoptika Ltd reveal how they have been able to identify the differences between the fingerprints of people who touched cocaine compared with those who have ingested the drug – even if the hands are not washed. The smart science behind the advance is the mass spectrometry imaging tools applied to the detection of cocaine and its metabolites in fingerprints.

This is a step up from research previously conducted by the University. In 2020 Surrey researchers were able to determine the difference between touch and ingestion if someone had washed their hands prior to giving a sample. Given that a suspect at a crime scene is unlikely to wash their hands before leaving fingerprints, these new findings are a significant advantage to crime forensics.

The Surrey team have continued to use their world-leading experimental fingerprint drug testing approach based on high-resolution mass spectrometry. Cocaine and its primary metabolite – benzoylecgonine*, can be imaged in fingerprints produced after either ingestion or contact with cocaine using these techniques. By analysing the images of cocaine and its metabolite in a fingerprint, and exploring the relationship between these molecules and the fingerprint ridges, it is possible to tell the difference between a person who has ingested a drug, and someone who has only touched it.

Dr Melanie Bailey, Reader in Forensic and Analytical Science and EPSRC Fellow at the University of Surrey, said: “Over the decades, fingerprinting technology has provided forensics with a great deal of information about gender and medication. Now, these new findings will inform forensics further when it comes to determining the use of class A drugs.

“In forensic science being able to understand more about the circumstances under which a fingerprint was deposited at a crime scene is important. This gives us the opportunity to reconstruct more detailed information from crime scenes in the future. The new research demonstrates that this is possible for the first time using high-resolution mass spectrometry techniques.”

Dr Allen Bellew, Applications & Marketing Manager at Ionoptika, commented: “To image these metabolites excreted through the skin requires very powerful analytical tools such as the unique Water Cluster Source that Ionoptika has been developing for over a decade. It’s clear that this new technique will be important for forensic science in the future, and as a small business in the UK it’s very exciting to see the role that our J105 SIMS instrument has played in its development.”

Dr Chelsea Nikula, Higher Research Scientist, NPL said: “This novel application of three different techniques illustrates the capabilities of mass spectrometry imaging to enable next-generation forensics analyses. It is great to see that the work we do here at NPL and the facilities we have available to us at the National Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry Imaging helped support this research.”

*Benzoylecgonine is a molecule produced in the body when cocaine is ingested, and it is essential in distinguishing those who have consumed the class A drug from those who have handled it.


Provided by University of Surrey

The latest findings show that with clever science, a single fingerprint left at a crime scene could be used to determine whether someone has touched or ingested class A drugs. In a paper published in Royal Society of Chemistry’s Analyst journal, a team of researchers at the University of Surrey, in collaboration with the National Centre […]

Single Fingerprint At A Crime Scene Detects Class A Drug Usage (Forensic Science) — Uncover reality

Forensics: The Research Tools Every Writer Needs via Danielle Adams

A staple location in any mystery is the crime scene. You know, the one where cops and forensic scientists take photos and collect evidence. It’s that evidence that helps our detective crack the case. In other words, forensics are integral to any mystery or crime novel.

The only problem is that the task of collecting and analyzing evidence is usually grossly misrepresented by Hollywood. It is also detailed work, which makes getting it right in your novel paramount.

To make things more interesting is there are numerous sub-fields to the discipline, so you’ll need to craft different characters for each role. Thankfully, there are writers out there that have blazed a trail for you and amassed numerous resources for us to use.

What is Forensics?

Before we go any further into the resources and how to use forensics in our writing, let’s define what this scientific discipline is:

Forensics: The application of the methods of the natural and physical sciences to matters of criminal and civil law. 

According to Britannica, forensic science is involved in criminal investigation and prosecution and civil wrong cases, such as willful pollution or industrial injuries.

The Different Types

And if you think about it, there are many different types of sciences used in forensics. For instance, here are 16 types of forensic science:

  • Trace Evidence Analysis
  • Toxicology
  • Podiatry
  • Odontology
  • Linguistics
  • Geology
  • Entomology
  • Engineering
  • DNA Analysis
  • Botany
  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Digital Forensics
  • Ballistics

And that’s not all of them. There are more, and what you use in your story will depend on the type of crime your character is investigating.

It makes this a bit daunting when you’re thinking about the research you’ll have to do into each branch. There are ways around this, but you should know the basics about evidence collection, who collects it, and how it’s analyzed.

Forensics Research Resources

When writing our detective story or police procedural, our focus is on the investigator of the crime. We aren’t looking closely at our secondary characters, which means we may not be doing our research.

And if we aren’t doing proper research, we might be assigning our detective duties outside of their role. Before we go into anything else, I want you to look at this infographic from Rasmussen College on who is present on a crime scene.

Who's who on a crime scene infographic. You need to know which forensics experts are present at the beginning.

Aside from the police officers on-site, you also have a forensic photographer taking pictures of the evidence. Your medical examiner and forensic pathologist are there to figure out how and when the victim died and to gather any evidence to help confirm these details later. And finally, you have a forensic science technician that collects all the evidence from the crime scene and classifies it, so it goes to the right people back at the lab.

Just because several people are on the crime scene, it doesn’t mean the crime scene is a free-for-all. There is a strict hierarchy of who is allowed on the crime scene at a given time.

Also, make sure that you’re up on the latest technology to lift fingerprints, collect DNA, etc. Here’s an infographic from eLocal Lawyers to get you started:

Get to Know Your Forensics Field

Each branch of forensics deals with a particular part of an investigation. For example, ballistics deals with guns, odontology deals with dental work, etc. If you are using a specific type of evidence, like dental work, look into the following things:

  • What evidence is looked at by that branch?
  • How that evidence is collected?
  • How long it takes to analyze the evidence?
  • Does the evidence support the investigation and prosecution of the crime? And in what ways?
  • What a negative result looks like and what successful results look like?
  • What’s real or made-up by Hollywood?

Here’s an infographic that explains the myths surrounding DNA evidence by Criminologia:

Some other authors have also created in-depth articles about specific forensic fields, like this one from the Creative Penn.

Other Resources

Besides knowing who does what, you need to look into several other avenues to make your fiction as realistic as possible. Here’s how you can do that:

Read some books.

The best way to find some things to look into is by reading within your genre. And if you want a thoroughly entertaining read from a forensic scientist, then you can’t go wrong with Kathy Reichs, the author behind the Bones TV show.

I’ve linked you to her about page. It tells you about all of her real-life experience in the field, so she knows what she’s talking about. The about page also links to numerous institutions that contain valuable, credible research information that you can use in your story.

You can also turn to nonfiction and read the following books and articles for writers:

You can also check out textbooks for forensics students, biographies, true crime stories, etc.

Check the Internet or Your Local Library

Libraries, especially your local university or college libraries, are fantastic resources for finding information. These libraries house academic texts and often have specialized collections and rare materials.

The college library is also the place to research articles from professional, scientific, and academic journals. These journals are a great way to find information about the latest news, breakthroughs, theories, and research within the various forensic specialties.

Additionally, your friendly search engine is an excellent way for you to start amassing your library of links on forensic science sites. You want to look for websites affiliated with educational institutions, media outlets that investigate and cover forensic issues, professional forensics organizations, law enforcement agencies, and experienced forensic investigators.

Talk to the Experts

The best place for you to find the information you need is to go straight to the source: the forensic experts. That means you’ll need to leverage your networking skills to find someone. You can also contact professors from your local college or university.

And if you don’t want to talk to someone, you can flip through some forensic science magazines to read interviews and articles on the subject. Or to get contact information so you can speak to them. (It’s still your best bet to get the information you need.)

Forensic specialists are busy people, so it may be worth your time to learn how to conduct an interview (AKA, ask pointed questions to get what you need). Here are some resources for helping you hone your interviewing skills:

Remember to thank your expert for their time and send a follow up “Thank you” note.

Legal Ramifications

Your story might not cover the case’s prosecution, but it’s good to know how forensic evidence is used in court and what types of evidence are seen as “more concrete” than others.

What can affect your story is the collection of evidence from a suspect’s home or person. You may want to look into the legal documents or statements that police and investigators need before they begin taking objects into evidence.

How to Write a Forensics Novel

Now that we have the research portion of our writing process out of the way, we need to focus on putting it into action. So without further adieu, here is what you need to think about when adding forensics to your story:

Setting up your crime scene.

You need to give this some thought on two fronts. First, you need to provide clues that will help your protagonist solve the crime. You also need to think about what your antagonist will do to cover their tracks.

Here’s an infographic on some ways your murderer may cover his tracks:

10 Ways to Cover Up a Murder Infographic with forensics

Why does this matter?

Because whatever your criminal does will leave behind certain types of evidence – your red herrings. These are a must-have in mystery or thriller because they help create suspense and keep your readers guessing until the end.

Put it in writing.

Earlier in this post, I told you there was a way around creating a new character for every forensic expert your protagonist interacts with. And the best way you can do that is by giving your protagonist reports to read.

And this is where you can have some fun. You can have your protagonist talk to their partner about the results, or you can format your page to look like a report. (It could look a little like this.)

Focus on one aspect of forensics.

I’m not saying that you need to focus on one type of forensics only, still use common evidence types, like fingerprinting, DNA, etc. but focus on an aspect you want to explore. Once you do that, exploit it for all the drama you can get out of it.

A common thing to focus on in true crime accounts or other crime stories is the killer or criminal’s psyche. People find this fascinating, and you can play into that to make your story more dramatic and suspenseful. Whatever you choose, ensure it is a central theme or piece of evidence for your novel.

Don’t commit to a specific time of death.

As author C.S. Lakin puts it:

Many mortis factors are considered when estimating time of death. Temperature is the biggie, followed by body mass.

A dead body will naturally adjust temperature (algor) to achieve equilibrium with its surroundings and will display time-telling factors, such as muscle stiffening (rigor), blood settling (livor), color (palor), and tissue breakdown (decomp). The presence of toxins also effects body changes. Cocaine amplifies the mortis process, while carbon monoxide retards it. Be careful in getting your forensic guru to commit on specific time.

The answer is in forensics.

Or the smallest of details. Author Sue Coletta highlighted this beautifully in her post about writing realistic crime scenes. She provides her readers with two cases and alters the crime scene in a small way.

When the officers find a small changed detail, they can solve the crime and arrest the appropriate person. That’s why many TV shows and novels have the detective go through all the evidence again to find that one small thing they missed.

And you can do this for your novel as well. If you want to, that is. You can always try to come up with a new way to bring the perpetrator to justice.


Forensics is an essential part of any investigation. It helps our detective find out who the killer is and bring them to justice.

They are also nasty little details that can make or break your reader’s suspension of belief if they’re not well-researched. Hopefully, I’ve made your research easier by providing you with a list of resources for you to use.

And don’t forget to pay attention to how your criminal will cover their tracks. It could be a small detail that’s their undoing.

Why are we fascinated with forensics and crime? Any Bones fans out there? Did I miss anything, or do you have any more tips? Please let me know in the comments below!

Stay safe, everyone.

Until next time.

Cheers,

Danielle

A staple location in any mystery is the crime scene. You know, the one where cops and forensic scientists take photos and collect evidence. It’s that evidence that helps our detective crack the case. In other words, forensics are integral to any mystery or crime novel. The only problem is that the task of collecting and analyzing […]

Forensics: The Research Tools Every Writer Needs — Danielle Adams