Forensic Science and its branches – AL MICRO LAW

Forensic Science is a branch of science that is a combination of scientific investigations and law. It is formed from two Latin words- “forensis” and “science” which help in solving a crime scene and analyzing the evidence. This is a core branch of science involving a lot of precision of science and law. Using scientific methods in solving cases has been practiced since ancient times the trial was held publicly as it used to carry a strong judicial connotation. The advancement of science and technology has led the forensic field to foster. 

The things forensic science experts perform are the examination of the body also known as an autopsy, document identification, evidence examination, a search of the crime scene, collecting fingerprints, and analyzing a small sample of blood, saliva, or any other fluids for determination and identification processes. In jurisprudence, forensics involves the application of knowledge and technology from several scientific fields. Biology, pharmacy, chemistry, medicine, and so on are the examples as each of them applies in today’s more complex legal proceedings in which experts from these fields are hard to prove offenses. Forensic science is the application of medical and paramedical expertise to assist the administration of justice in solving legal matters or in the court of law. The forensic findings can be used in a court of law as a piece of evidence and thus can be useful in solving a legal matter or dispute.

Forensic Science has various branches like Forensic biology, forensic physics, computational forensic, digital forensics, forensic accounting, forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology, forensic astronomy, forensic ballistic, forensic botany, forensic chemistry, forensic dactyloscopy, forensic document examination, forensic DNA analysis, forensic entomology, forensic geology, forensic linguistics, forensic meteorology, forensic odontology, forensic pathology, forensic podiatry, forensic toxicology, forensic psychology, forensic economics, criminology and wildlife forensics. 

  • Forensic biology – Forensic Biology is the use of biological scientific principles and processes, generally in a legal setting. Forensic biologists examine plants cellular and tissue samples, as well as physiological fluids, in the course of a legal inquiry.
  • Forensic physics – Forensic physics is the use of physics for civil or criminal law objectives. Forensic physics has typically entailed the determination of density (soil and glass investigation), the refractive index of materials, and birefringence for fibre analysis. Ballistics is a sub-discipline of forensic physics.
  • Computational forensic – Computational science is being used to investigate and solve problems in several sectors of forensic research.
  • Digital forensics – It specialises in retrieving data from electronic and digital media.
  • Forensic accounting – Accounting for forensic purposes investigates and evaluates facts pertaining to accounting.
  • Forensic anthropology – Forensic anthropology is the use of anthropology and osteology to establish information about a human body in an advanced stage of decomposition.
  • Forensic archaeology – Archaeology for forensic purposes is the branch in which archaeological approaches are used
  • Forensic astronomy – Astronomy for forensic purposes is the use of celestial constellations to address legal concerns is quite uncommon. It is most commonly utilised to solve historical issues.
  • Forensic ballistic – Forensic Ballistics is the examination of any evidence pertaining to weapons (bullets, bullet marks, shell casings, gunpowder residue etc.)
  • Forensic botany – Plant leaves, seeds, pollen, and other plant life found on the crime scene, victim, or accused can give solid proof of the accused’s presence.
  • Forensic chemistry – Forensic chemistry focuses on the investigation of illegal narcotics, gunshot residue, and other chemical compounds.
  • Forensic dactyloscopy – Dactyloscopy for forensic purposes relates to the collection, preservation, and analysis of fingerprint evidence.
  • Forensic document examination – Examining forensic documents investigates, researches, and determines the facts of documents under dispute in court.
  • Forensic DNA analysis – This branch of forensic science focuses on the collecting and analysis of DNA evidence for use in court.
  • Forensic entomology – It investigates insects discovered at the scene of a crime or on the body of a victim, and it is especially useful in pinpointing the time and place of the victim’s death.
  • Forensic geology – Geology for forensic purposes entails the use of geological variables such as soil and minerals to obtain evidence for a crime.
  • Forensic linguistics – It is the study of the language used in judicial procedures. Emergency calls, voice identification, ransom demands, suicide notes, and so on are all examples.
  • Forensic meteorology –  It includes using meteorological variables to ascertain details about a crime. It is most frequently applied in instances involving insurance companies and homicides.
  • Forensic odontology –  It refers to the investigation of dental evidence.
  • Forensic pathology – This branch of forensic science is concerned with the examination of a body and identifying factors such as the cause of death.
  • Forensic podiatry – Forensic podiatry refers to the investigation of footprint evidence.
  • Forensic toxicology – A forensic toxicologist investigates toxic compounds found on or in a body, such as narcotics, e-liquid, and poisons.
  • Forensic Psychology – Forensic Psychology and Forensic Psychiatry are two branches of forensic medicine. These are concerned with the legal implications of human activity.
  • Forensic economics – This is the investigation and analysis of economic damage evidence, which includes present-day estimations of lost earnings and benefits, the lost value of a firm, lost business profits, lost value of home services, replacement labour expenses, and future medical care expenditures. 
  • Criminology – In criminal investigations, this involves the use of several disciplines to answer issues about the study and comparison of biological evidence, trace evidence, impression evidence (such as fingerprints, shoeprints, and tyre tracks), restricted drugs, and guns.
  • Wildlife forensics – This involves the investigation of crime situations involving animals, such as endangered species or animals that have been unlawfully killed or poached.

When it comes to life and death situations, objective proof is critical. In the past, significant evidence in criminal prosecutions might have come from witnesses or other subjective sources, but forensic science now provides objective evidence. That is, forensic evidence, which is based on the scientific approach, is considered more dependable than even eyewitness testimony. In a legal system that holds that the accused is innocent until proven guilty, forensic scientists’ evidence is now routinely used by both the defence and the prosecution in many court cases. While Forensic Toxicologists, for example, may work most closely with law enforcement or the courts after a crime has been committed, Forensic Psychologists (also known as Profilers) might step in even before a suspect has been identified to assist prevent future crimes.

Forensic Science is an emerging branch of science that is a combination of scientific investigations and law. It is formed from two Latin words- “forensis” and “science” which help in solving a crime scene and analyzing the evidence. This is a core branch of science involving a lot of precision of science and law. Using […]

A brief about Forensic Science and its branches — AL MICRO LAW

What is Forensic Psychiatry?

Forensic psychiatry is a subspecialty of psychiatry, in which scientific and clinical expertise is applied to legal issues in legal contexts embracing civil, criminal, correctional, or legislative matters. Forensic science has gained incredible attention through popular crime investigation shows. People love to watch as the clues, and tell-tale signs of guilt unfold, playing along by making their guesses about what the evidence means. One of the most interesting of the forensic sciences is forensic psychiatry.

Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists were developed by Division 41 of the American Psychological Association, but are not an “official statement” of this organization. The guidelines offer a model of practices to which psychological experts should aspire, and are intended to amplify standards expressed in the American Psychological Association’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists. The Specialty Guidelines define as forensic psychologists those licenced psychologists who regularly function as experts in legal proceedings, who work in correctional and/or forensic mental health facilities, or who serve in agencies that adjudicate judicial or legal matters.

Common procedures/interventions

Court work

Forensic psychiatrists regularly provide expert witness evidence to courts at all levels. Psychiatrists in other specialties may also have sufficient training to do this, but, more commonly forensic psychiatrists are called to the higher courts – including crown courts or the Court of Appeal in more serious criminal cases such as homicide, other serious violence and sex offending. They may also be asked for expertise in the family court or on other civil matters, such as compensation after major trauma or disaster. Areas of expertise required include:

  • defendant’s fitness to plead and fitness to stand trial
  • capacity to form intent
  • advice to the courts on the available psychiatric defences
  • appropriateness and circumstances required for an individual’s admission to hospital for assessment
  • appropriateness of a mental health disposal at the time of sentencing
  • nature of a particular mental disorder and link to future risks
  • prognosis and availability of “appropriate treatment”
  • level of security required to treat a patient and manage risk

Consultation work

When advising colleagues in the care of patients deemed to be a risk to others, forensic psychiatrists will need to be competent to provide a detailed assessment including advice on:

  • risk of harm to others, including use of structured risk assessment/professional judgement tools
  • risk management
  • expertise on pharmacological and psychological treatment approaches to violent behaviours associated with mental disorders
  • psychodynamic formulation of the case, including psychotherapeutic strategy
  • therapeutic use of security

Community forensic work provides opportunities to assess and to work with mentally disordered offenders in facilities run by HM Prison and Probation Service and/or third sector organisations. In addition, although all psychiatrists should have a basic understanding of the system of Multi-Agency Protection Panels, in practice forensic psychiatrists must be very experienced in such work. Ethical issues, such as information sharing, differ under such working arrangements from usual clinical practice. Skills needed include knowledge of when and what otherwise confidential information must be shared with others in these circumstances, clarity of understanding of role in the arrangements and appropriate confidence in requiring information from other agencies when necessary for good and safe care. 

Forensic psychiatrists must participate in regular audit within and outside the specialty, thus helping to improve the quality of the service offered to patients.

They must understand clinical governance procedures, attend meetings and investigate complaints and serious incidents alongside colleagues in the multi-disciplinary team. 

Teaching and training is also an important part of the work. This includes weekly supervision of specialist higher trainees in forensic psychiatry, but also more junior trainees in any specialty. With recruitment and retention in mind, it is important to engage with undergraduate medical trainees too. Given the multi-professional nature of the work, a contribution to the teaching and training of people from other relevant disciplines is also expected. 

Super-specialties

People with needs relevant to the whole psychiatric spectrum may offend or become dangerous to others. In some areas this is so common that joint training has been set up to allow those who complete the training to be able to claim expertise in both (or more) areas. There is a growing need for old-age forensic psychiatry, and most offender patients have problems with substance misuse, but the three recognised combinations to date are:

  • adolescent forensic psychiatry
  • forensic learning disability psychiatry 
  • forensic psychotherapy

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Forensic psychiatry is a subspecialty of psychiatry, in which scientific and clinical expertise is applied to legal issues in legal contexts embracing civil, criminal, correctional, or legislative matters. Forensic science has gained incredible attention through popular crime investigation shows. People love to watch as the clues, and tell-tale signs of guilt unfold, playing along by making […]

Forensic Psychiatry — European Conferences

Forensic Expert via The Forensic Science Public Desk, India

Who is an Expert?

I am an expert in doing sketches. How? I am passionate about sketching and drawing since my childhood and still, I practice it. I take a very short time to do any kind of sketch within few minutes compared to the capability of any other common human. Hence, It can be said as he has expertise in the art of sketching and he has knowledge on sketching where he can form an opinion or comment on other work whether it is authentic, truly hard work, commendable work or possibilities and what were the possible ingredients used to make a certain sketch.

So that was an example which gives us a better understanding of who is an expert.

A person who has special knowledge and skill in a particular branch of learning and thus qualified to give his opinion, whereas, an ordinary person is not competent to do so.

Thus, Doctors, artists, engineers, surveyors, engravers, mechanics, artisans, and the diverse classes of specifically skilled workmen would all be experts within the meaning of the expert, of course, each in his walk of life.

How can you be one? 

Crimes are associated with the number of evidence like blood, bullet or a dead body. Identification or classifying any of this would easy due to definite science which is available as the experience of individuals working with a field like serologists, Ballistic experts or Doctors. This particular aspect can be learnt and it can apply to

Section 45 in The Indian Evidence Act, 1872

Opinions of experts.—When the Court has to form an opinion upon a point of foreign law or science or art.

What is foreign law or science or art? Means, Court is represented by personnel’s dealing with law and justice enforced for public welfare. I pursuit of justice there are certain aspects which are also involved like science. Representatives of court, that is judges or law Practitioners are not aware of these particular sciences like serology or physics or medicine nor they can complete the degree in few days nor they can be unethical by justifying anything on their own. They are knowledgeable personnel’s in enacting law and justice for public welfare but not to justify truth hidden within the scientific evidence like nature of injury on the body or striation marks on the bullet.

Hence, the Court needs to rely on expert opinion to understand the significant scientific evidence role of any kind of case dealt with in the court.

Examples

Doctor: As to ascertain the cause of death or time since death

Chemical examiner: identification of a questioned substance by conducting chemical examination which approved by scientific statutory bodies.

Ballistics expert: identification of alleged firearm by comparing test-fired bullet and questioned bullet.

Court believes science-based literature, research held and scientific principles or laws developed during a search of the reality behind happenings of many unknown things to mankind.

Whom will you handover the evidence to?

Just imagine if you are having an Evidence which is a “Document with disputed signature, questioned age of ink in the signature and contents on the questioned document” Whom will you handover the evidence to?

One who has just completed Masters in Forensic Science – has experience practice with demo samples or simulated samples or experience while in internship or project under the supervision of an expert. The court cannot rely on you leaving behind qualified experts but you should be having the capability to convince the court in the science subject matter thus makes you an expert. Anybody one who can prove or involve in the scientific examination of the evidence on the grounds of being intellectual in scientific principles and law which are in current practice by many of the recognized scientists can be referred and can be used to prove the truth hidden with evidence. This can be regarded as the private practice of forensic consultancy.

According to IEA 45, an opinion formed by an expert is based on recognized principles regulating the scientific study. The opinion so formed by a person having the necessary special skill in the subject is, therefore, the opinion of an expert in that branch of the science. Such an opinion is the opinion of an expert in a branch of science which is admissible in evidence under Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act. (or)

One who has 10 years of experience dealing with similar types of cases as an expert – Similar kind of cases here means, there is plenty of complications involved in dealing with crime evidence. Hence, Experience will be vast and much expertise in nature. Many of the times experts may fail to form an opinion and where by the court will justify such conflict by itself being expert by considering other circumstantial evidence and facts of the case. Under section 73 IEA.

Though Section 73 deals with Comparison of signature, writing or seal with others admitted or proved. It has also relevance with the explanation given for court expertise.

Patna High Court State (Through Cbi) vs S.J. Choudhary on 13 February, 1996

Are there any designated experts recognized by the court?

Yes, Forensic Science Laboratories personnel’s under section 293 says Reports of certain Government scientific experts. Subsection 4 applies to the Government scientific experts, namely:-

(a) any Chemical Examiner or Assistant Chemical Examiner to Government; of Forensic Science Laboratories or Govt. Chemical Examiners Laboratory.

(b) the Chief Inspector of- Explosives; current position is Joint Chief Controller of Explosives (HOD) of Petroleum & Explosives Safety Organization (PESO).

(c) the Director of the Finger Print Bureau; both state level and central level.

(d) the Director, Haffkeine Institute, Bombay; as a bacteriology research Centre called the “Plague Research Laboratory”. It now offers various basic and applied biomedical science services.

(e) Director, Deputy Director or Assistant Director] of a Central Forensic Science Laboratory or a State Forensic Science Laboratory;

(f) the Serologist to the Government. Head of Institute of Serology that is Serologist & Chemical examiner or Assistant serologists.

So these people are regarded as experts in the court officially or they can also appoint assistants working with case actually under subsection 3 of Cr.P.C 293

 

This article will help to understand forensic expertise, the role of an expert in criminal justice system by providing suitable examples accordingly Indian Evidence Act Sections 45 & 73 and also gives a glance on government scientific experts under section 293 of Criminal Procedure Code.

via Forensic Expert — Forensic Science Public Desk, India

Ethical Dilemmas in Forensics

Most forensic “scientists” have little understanding of scientific methodology, do not design or conduct research (and do not know how to), often have not read the serious scientific literature beginning to emerge in their fields. . . . Scientific findings relevant to a given forensic science often are ignored in the conduct of everyday casework.
via: Salem Press Encyclopedia of Science
Abstract:
Although witnesses in American courtrooms are called upon to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, they may be enjoined from volunteering information. A witness’s individual sense of relevance must often bow to a court’s judgment. The legal system seeks truth, yet it sometimes defers to other values, such as fairness and confidentiality, and in general demands acceptance of formalized rules of procedure. In their capacity as experts, forensic scientists typically enjoy greater latitude than ordinary witnesses in expressing opinions and making judgments in the courtroom, but they too must operate within the often cumbersome and sometimes counterintuitive requirements of the “system” of “justice.”

Definition: Principles of conduct, moral duty, and obligation that guide individuals in their decisions and actions.

Significance: As scientists, forensic scientists have a professional obligation to seek and to speak the truth about matters within their purview. As participants in a forensic process, they are subject to additional, sometimes conflicting, duties. This tension generates many ethical dilemmas.

Although witnesses in American courtrooms are called upon to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, they may be enjoined from volunteering information. A witness’s individual sense of relevance must often bow to a court’s judgment. The legal system seeks truth, yet it sometimes defers to other values, such as fairness and confidentiality, and in general demands acceptance of formalized rules of procedure. In their capacity as experts, forensic scientists typically enjoy greater latitude than ordinary witnesses in expressing opinions and making judgments in the courtroom, but they too must operate within the often cumbersome and sometimes counterintuitive requirements of the “system” of “justice.”

89312142-73888.jpg
Entrance sign at the Society of Forensic Toxicologists (SOFT) Meeting, July 5, 2012. By Monika M. Wahi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Forensic scientists are measured against a standard of professional integrity, although the professionalization of the scientific study of crime is far from complete. Professions are substantially self-regulating, usually through agreed-upon standards and codes of ethics, and this creates the need for them to articulate appropriate expectations and the responsibility of members of professions both to act correctly themselves and to provide appropriate correction for their errant colleagues. A case in point is William Tobin’s campaign against the chemical analysis of bullet lead, also known as comparative bullet-lead analysis (CBLA).

Tobin’s Exposure of CBLA

CBLA is a technique that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) used for four decades—the investigation of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 was an early use—to make cases against defendants when traditional firearms analysis (that is, examination of barrel rifling on bullets) was not possible. By measuring the proportions of seven trace elements (antimony, arsenic, bismuth, cadmium, copper, silver, and tin) found in the lead of a bullet in evidence, forensic scientists sought to establish the probability that the bullet came from the same provenance as a bullet in the suspect’s possession. The belief that the comparison of the chemical composition of bullets could connect two bullets rested on unexamined assumptions about the similarities and differences of the source lead from which the bullets were cast. FBI experts testified in thousands of cases that the facts ascertainable through CBLA established likely identity and therefore pointed toward the probable guilt of the accused. Sometimes, as in the case of Michael Behm, who was convicted of murder in 1997, CBLA provided essentially the only evidence of guilt.

In the 1990s, FBI metallurgist William Tobin began to question the validity of the technique. He felt strongly enough about the issue to research the matter, after his retirement in 1998, with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory metallurgist Erik Randich. They analyzed data from two lead smelters in Alabama and Minnesota and discovered that the FBI techniques could not distinguish batches of lead produced months apart. They also discovered that differences existed within single batches. Their research was published in Forensic Science International in July 2002.

Although he still defended the technique, the director of the FBI Laboratory requested that the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences review CBLA. In February 2004, the NRC report, titled Forensic Analysis: Weighing Bullet Lead Evidence, confirmed that only extremely limited claims could be made about the relationship between bullets based on CBLA. Given the NRC findings, a New Jersey appeals court overturned Behm’s conviction in March 2005. The results of the NRC study have obvious implications for many other cases as well.

In an article titled “Forensic Significance of Bullet Lead Compositions,” which appeared in the Journal of Forensic Sciences in March 2005, FBI research chemists Robert D. Koons and JoAnn Buscaglia argued that “compositional comparison of bullet lead provides a reliable, highly significant point of evidentiary comparison of potential sources of crime-related bullets.” In September of that year, however, the FBI announced that it would no longer use CBLA. (In a curious subsequent development, Tobin and a member of the NRC committee, Clifford Spiegelman, suggested that a reanalysis of the bullet fragments from the Kennedy assassination might be in order.)

An article published in New Scientist in April 2002, quoted Tobin as saying of the interpretation of bullet data based on CBLA, “It offended me as a scientist.” In fact, Tobin has a long record as a critic of FBI procedures he regards as bad science and of testimonial practices he regards as unwarranted by the scientific data. To complain about testimony that unreasonably goes beyond what the data can support is to respond equally to the demands of science and the demands of ethics. It is a feature of commonsense justice that the punishment should fit the crime, and a basic requirement of that, in turn, is that the people who are punished should be guilty. Violating that requirement is both bad science and bad ethics.

Joyce Gilchrist’s Tainted Evidence

Is it enough that the accused be guilty of some crime, or does it have to be the one in question? If the accused is guilty of the crime in question, does it matter whether the evidence actually shows that? The belief that one can convict the guilty by tweaking the evidence a little, or shading one’s testimony a bit, is among the most common sources of unethical (and, often enough, criminal) behavior on the part of forensic scientists. The cautionary tale of former Oklahoma City police Department forensic scientist Joyce Gilchrist probably falls into this category.

In May 2007, Curtis Edward McCarty, who was facing his third trial for a 1982 murder, was freed as the result of the improper handling and representation of hair evidence by Gilchrist, who apparently had tried to frame McCarty. The judge dismissed the charge despite her belief that McCarty was probably not completely innocent. This was merely the latest in a series of episodes involving Gilchrist.

Questions about the integrity of Gilchrist’s work began as early as January 1987, when a Kansas City colleague, John Wilson, complained about her to the Southwestern Association of Forensic Scientists, without result. In 1998, Robert Miller was exonerated after he had been convicted a decade earlier based in part on Gilchrist’s testimony regarding blood, semen, and hair evidence. In 1999, Gilchrist was criticized by a judge for having given false testimony (regarding semen evidence) in the rape/murder trial of Alfred Brian Mitchell in 1992. In the spring of 2000, Jeffrey Todd Pierce was ordered released after he had served a decade and a half for a rape he did not commit; he had been convicted based on Gilchrist’s testimony. In January 2001, Gilchrist was criticized for the various judicial reprimands and professional critiques her work had received. In August 2001, doubts were raised about the guilt of Malcolm Rent Johnson, who had been executed for a 1981 rape and murder; Johnson was convicted based on Gilchrist’s testimony.

A month later, in September 2001, Gilchrist was finally fired, after years of reputedly shoddy forensics work, including both mishandling and misrepresentation of evidence, on many cases in addition to those noted above. The world of criminal justice contains innumerable isolated instances of perverse idealism, self-serving cynicism, and simple incompetence, but Gilchrist is one of the most striking cases of flagrant disregard for ethics in the forensics community. Was she genuinely convinced of the guilt of those against whom she testified? (She was certainly persuasive to juries.) Was she cynically distorting her testimony, and the evidence, to help prosecutors gain convictions, or was she just incompetent?

Ethics of Competence

One may well agree with forensics ethicist Peter D. Barnett’s remark that “there is a certain baseline level of competence that every criminalist is expected to understand, and there are certain procedures and protocols that are so fundamental to the practice of criminalistics that failure to follow them is evidence of gross incompetence or malfeasance, which is unethical.” As Barnett himself notes, however, “in the practice of forensic science, the disparate educational and experiential backgrounds of workers in the field make determination of a baseline level of competence relatively difficult.”

This is a problem throughout the American criminal justice system. In June 2007, all sergeants in the New Orleans Police Department were required to attend a four-day seminar to learn how to improve their (and their subordinates’) writing of police reports. This was part of an attempt to smooth out conflicts between the department and the New Orleans district attorney’s office, which claimed that part of its difficulty in prosecuting criminals stemmed from “incomplete or vague reports” by officers. More generally, criminalists frequently lament that frontline officers are not more skilled in observing, protecting, collecting, and preserving crime scene evidence.

One certainly can (in theory) impose reasonable expectations about competence and development in forensic science. However, that is not made easy by the variety of educational backgrounds and practical experience of the people who actually work in the field. In an unflattering assessment published in 2005, Jane Campbell Moriarty and Michael J. Saks bluntly asserted that “in the forensic sciences . . . 96 percent of practitioners hold bachelor’s degrees or less.” They went on to note:

Most forensic “scientists” have little understanding of scientific methodology, do not design or conduct research (and do not know how to), often have not read the serious scientific literature beginning to emerge in their fields. . . . Scientific findings relevant to a given forensic science often are ignored in the conduct of everyday casework.

Moreover, as with the difficulty in defining the qualifications for expert testimony, the fact that crime fighting is not a natural kind of expertise has an impact. Almost any expert might be relevant to a criminal case, depending on circumstances. Given the diverse forms of knowledge relevant to the application of science to crime solving, and to the providing of suitable expert testimony, it may be that the only truly unifying factor is the application of the so-called scientific method, broadly understood as intellectual integrity—the determined effort, as physicist Richard P. Feynman put it, not to fool oneself (or others).

What is impressive about the case of William Tobin is his determination to ensure that his colleagues (or former colleagues) not testify to more than the data warrant, both out of scientific integrity and out of fairness to those whose lives are affected by what scientists say. What is appalling about the case of Joyce Gilchrist is the stubbornness of her effort to resist correction by colleagues or even by the seemingly obvious limits of the evidence itself. Sometimes the individual needs to correct the group, by exposing a bogus or complacent consensus; sometimes the group needs to correct the individual, by identifying willful deception or self-centered fantasy. Unfortunately, no formula exists to guarantee the right result, and that is why ethics remains a constant challenge to conscientious souls.

Ethical dilemmas in forensics

Related Information

  • American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS)
  • American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD)
  • Brain-wave scanners
  • Criminal personality profiling
  • DNA database controversies
  • Ethics of DNA analysis
  • Expert witnesses in trials
  • Forensic journalism
  • Innocence Project
  • Interrogation in criminal investigations
  • Training and licensing of forensic professionals
  • Truth serum in interrogation

Last reviewed: October 2016

Bibliography

Barnett, Peter D. Ethics in Forensic Science: Professional Standards for the Practice of Criminalistics. Boca Raton: CRC, 2001. Print.

Inman, Keith, and Norah Rudin. Principles and Practice of Criminalistics: The Profession of Forensic Science. Boca Raton: CRC, 2001. Print.

Lucas, Douglas M. “The Ethical Responsibilities of the Forensic Scientist: Exploring the Limits.” Journal of Forensic Sciences 34 (1989): 719–29. Print.

Macklin, Ruth. “Ethics and Value Bias in the Forensic Sciences.” Journal of Forensic Sciences 42 (1997): 1203–206. Print.

Moriarty, Jane Campbell, and Michael J. Saks. “Forensic Science: Grand Goals, Tragic Flaws, and Judicial Gatekeeping.” Judges’ Journal 44.4 (2005): 16–33. Print.

Peterson, Joseph L., and John E. Murdock. “Forensic Science Ethics: Developing an Integrated System of Support and Enforcement.” Journal of Forensic Sciences 34 (1989): 749–62. Print.

Derived from: “Ethics.” Forensic Science. Salem Press. 2009.

 

The science behind forensic toxicology

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson) Featured Image -- 122
WRITTEN BY: Katherine Ellen Foley

When we get our blood tested for cholesterol, it doesn’t take long to get the results. And if someone turns up at the hospital with what looks like a drug overdose, doctors can perform a quick test to verify their suspicions before treatment.
But unlike popular crime series like CSI, in which investigators whip up test results in the span of a quick montage, most forensic toxicology reports take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. This can be an excruciating wait after mysterious deaths and unsolved crimes. Why does it take so long?
Quartz spoke with Robert Middleberg, a toxicologist from NMS Labs in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, to find out.
Unlike other medical tests, where technicians isolate a specific compound like cholesterol, Middleberg says that you don’t always know what you’re looking for with forensic toxicology. “If you have a young person who is found dead in bed and there’s no history of drug abuse, you’re looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack,” he tells Quartz.
Testing times

After a body is found and an autopsy is performed by a pathologist, a separate lab will look for any environmental or pharmaceutical toxins that could be the killers. Without any clear clues, Middleberg says they will start testing for about 400 different substances. “We never know what we’re going to get,” he notes. It takes creative intuition to guide a cycle of testing and interpreting the results of tests to inform further testing.
Once an initial analysis returns a match for a particular substance, toxicologists must gather more specifics for the official report. Bodies that have already started decaying produce some toxins naturally, like ethanol (another name for the alcohol we drink) and cyanide, so toxicologists may have to perform additional tests to determine whether these played an active role in the cause of death.
All of this is further complicated by the fact that samples often arrive in less than ideal conditions. “If somebody is pulled out of the water after being missing for two or three weeks, these samples are very, very bad,” Middleberg says.
Unlike testing in an emergency room to confirm an overdose, pathology focuses on specifics. “For [medical toxicologists], sometimes it doesn’t really matter exactly what’s there,” Middleberg says. “In our world, the pathologists want to know exactly what it is and how much.”
Not every test is a complicated affair—despite all of the unknowns, Middleberg says that most labs try to have a turnaround time of 3-5 days for ruling things out and 7-10 days for identifying the specific factors leading to death.
Looking for clues

Like detectives, toxicologists look for clues to narrow down which tests are necessary. Knowing a subject’s history with drug or alcohol use obviously helps. There are also several somewhat macabre rules of thumb that tip toxicologists off to seek substances they wouldn’t normally test for:
Bright red blood as a sign of carbon monoxide poisoning
A green brain as a sign of exposure to hydrogen sulfide
Chocolate brown blood as a sign of excess methemoglobin poisoning
Hair falling out can be a sign of chronic arsenic or thallium poisoning
Blue skin can be a sign of gadolinium poisoning
Cocaine and methamphetamines can change the shape of the heart
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The Making of a Serial Killer / Child Molester: How to improve Police-Community relations?

What’s missing in how to improve police-community relations?

Written on 5/27/201529uwo0l

It’s amazing that no federal, state or municipal political leader; no police administrator; and certainly no media talking head has come forward to ask why only ONE side of the narrative of how police-community relationships should change.

The clear theme that is evident in ALL of these police-involved citizen deaths is that a history of bad life choices made by citizens creates a confluence of circumstances resulting in unintended consequences that unfortunately have led to the deaths of those portrayed in the media and by uninformed activists as “innocents.”

Bad parenting, no parenting, the irresponsibility of young males to impregnate young naive females and then abandon their parental responsibilities; failing to embrace the benefits of education; failure to develop meaningful job skills; drugs abuse; gang involvement; embracing and glorifying gangsta rappers who forward a destructive narrative of drugs, crime, and disrespect/violence against police.535cc702-6d8c-479b-96e8-65c869e0eb6d-original

Nearly every so-called “victim” of these recent police-involved deaths had a history of criminal arrests; were fleeing from detention and arrest on foot and/or in vehicles; had verbally and physically resisted detention or arrest; had assaulted police with weapons; were in possession of weapons; and/or were under the influence of drugs during the encounter and altercations.

Where is the public’s ownership of these poor life decisions? Why aren’t the parents, the political leaders, the community activists, the media talking heads, celebrities, nationally prominent athletes and the jet setting, race bating civil rights “activists” such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton extolling our children and citizens NOT to make these very obvious and poor life choices?

Why do some communities seem to have an overwhelming number of violent crimes, high levels of gang violence and drug abuse and interactions with police – and others either very low or almost no such instances? And why aren’t the obvious differences in these communities discussed?

Why are the false narratives such as “Hands up. Don’t shoot.” forwarded by the media, street activists, and our political leaders? Why are some segments of American society more intent upon assigning blame to the police; rather than accepting responsibility for their poor life choices?

The police are not psychologists, sociologists, criminologists and mental health practitioners. They are “First Responders.” Police respond to society’s problems; they can’t fix them. Police officers come from our communities; not from distant planets. They are us and we are them. Police get the training that YOU provide them with. Can they be better trained? Of course. Do they want and ask for better training and equipment? All the time, but YOU don’t want to pay for it. Do police need to be smart and better educated? Of course, but the problem is that agencies can’t find qualified officers because many who apply lack even the most basic education and personal skills to pass the tests to become a police officer. How are these issues the fault of police? Yet the public, politicians and the media consistently heap criticism on them.

If you want a dramatic national change in police-community relations, begin by first looking into the mirror as citizens and as a society and ask yourselves what are YOU willing to do to bring about this needed change? When will YOU begin accepting responsibility for YOUR actions? When you take this first step, you begin the journey upon the road towards positive change between yourselves and your police.

Dr. Ron Martinelli is a nationally renowned forensic criminologist and police expert with a national presence who investigates and independently reviews high-profile police-involved death cases at: martinelliandassociates.com

Dr. Ron Martinelli

Written on 5/27/2015

It’s amazing that no federal, state or municipal political leader; no police administrator; and certainly no media talking head has come forward to ask why only ONE side of the narrative of how police-community relationships should change.

The clear theme that is evident in ALL of these police-involved citizen deaths is that a history of bad life choices made by citizens creates a confluence of circumstances resulting in unintended consequences that unfortunately have led to the deaths of those portrayed in the media and by uninformed activists as “innocents.”

Bad parenting, no parenting, the irresponsibility of young males to impregnate young naive females and then abandon their parental responsibilities; failing to embrace the benefits of education; failure to develop meaningful job skills; drugs abuse; gang involvement; embracing and glorifying gangsta rappers who forward a destructive narrative of drugs, crime, and disrespect/violence against police.

Nearly every so-called “victim”…

View original post 438 more words

Forensic Psychology; The Cognitive Interviewing of witnesses

Psychlite

IMG_3167The Cognitive interview is derived from a range of sources of cognitive evidence relating mainly in the psychology of memory.  It was formulated by combining a number of techniques to assist in allowing an interviewer, such as a police officer, to provide conditions that would allow for the greatest level of accuracy possible, in essence a systematic set of tools to allow access to someone’s memory without inadvertently altering it or not gaining the full insight due to poor phrasing. The Cognitive Interview (CI) is primarily used for witnesses and victims as it needs to assume a willing party. Suspects cannot be relied upon to tell the truth for obvious reasons, hence alternative approaches have been created for their interviewing, such as the controversial  Reid Technique.  The Cognitive Interview can also be used with children as witnesses, which is a significant advancement in police methods as to the historical

View original post 65 more words

Medical Students Don’t Learn About Death

The following is part 1 in a series about death and dying in the medical context. This reflection was written by me earlier this year, before I sought out a Palliative Medicine elective. Part 2 will follow soon.

death_and_dying-300x239

Until the last week of my sub-internship, I had never had a patient die on my watch. To be sure, I had patients on the cusp of dying – and some who did die, of course, when I was already on another rotation. I have been around dying patients who were on our team but were being taken care of by the other resident/medical student. But never a patient of my own, until my final year of medical school.

I have never been sure whether to consider myself lucky or unlucky. Is that a morbid way to think about it? That maybe I was lucky (and my patients were lucky) that they didn’t die on my watch? That maybe I was lucky that I hadn’t had to experience those awful and heartbreaking conversations with a patient’s family. In the Russian roulette game of hospital care and medical education, I felt spared.

At the same time – and I feel almost selfish for saying this – I considered myself unlucky. I had never been around a dying patient. I had never known what it meant to take care of someone in their final days. I had never had the opportunity to learn and grow as a person and a physician from those difficult moments.

My first clinical experience with death was during my sub-internship, with a woman with end-stage ovarian cancer. I had scrubbed in on her most recent debulking surgery, and I had followed her post-operatively. Though her overall prognosis was poor, she was progressing well after this most recent operation. Her pain and abdominal bloating were slightly improved. She was even about ready to go to a rehab facility; all the arrangements had been made for transfer.

But then she started failing – started not being able to get out of bed. Started being more confused about herself and her surroundings. Started sleeping more of the day. She was physically and mentally breaking down. The cancer burden was overwhelming her body, and she was not able to hold up.

This experience was undoubtedly sad, but the experience for me was compounded by the suddenness and relative unexpectedness of it all. “She was not dying when I met her!” I naively believed.

She did have terminal cancer, after all.

The emotional impact was heightened for me because of the fact that only one of her family members was with her until the end. I felt bad that nobody she knew from outside the hospital was there for; yet I hope our medical team was able to be a somewhat second family to her in her final days. I visited in on her, spoke with her relative, did everything non-medical I thought to try to make her comfortable (I didn’t know much).

When she passed, I imagined the briefest moment of stillness amongst the chaos, but the hospital quickly moved on. There was no closure, no reflection, almost no conversation. When the other team members who had helped take care of her found out the news, there was a general statement of sadness, but then it was back to work as usual. There was more work to be done, other patients to take care of.

I heard that the nursing and floor teams held a small commemoration for our patient later that week (as they do for any patient on the cancer floor who dies). I wasn’t aware it was happening, and I’m positive none of the medical team was present.

Do doctors not mourn, too? Don’t we all need a moment to breathe, to reflect on our relationship with that patient, and to acknowledge our emotions about their passing?

Why don’t they prepare us for this?

markmdmph

The following is part 1 in a series about death and dying in the medical context. This reflection was written by me earlier this year, before I sought out a Palliative Medicine elective. Part 2 will follow soon.

death_and_dying-300x239

Until the last week of my sub-internship, I had never had a patient die on my watch. To be sure, I had patients on the cusp of dying – and some who did die, of course, when I was already on another rotation. I have been around dying patients who were on our team but were being taken care of by the other resident/medical student. But never a patient of my own, until my final year of medical school.

View original post 540 more words

FBI Upgrades Animal Cruelty To A Felony

Posted by: James Lautner, Senior Cats Editor on April 7, 2015 in Editors Choice, News 10885402_1027032530656996_5962253481430927823_n

A report from WMC Action 5 FBI Raises Animal Cruelty to Top Tier Crime reports on how animal cruelty has been raised to a crime against society at the same level as arson, burglary and kidnapping.

A Huffington Post article more fully explains the implications of this:

Young people who torture and kill animals are prone to violence against people later in life if it goes unchecked, studies have shown. A new federal category for animal cruelty crimes will help root out those pet abusers before their behavior worsens and give a boost to prosecutions, an animal welfare group says.

For years, the FBI has filed animal abuse under the label “other” along with a variety of lesser crimes, making cruelty hard to find, hard to count and hard to track. The bureau announced this month that it would make animal cruelty a Group A felony with its own category — the same way crimes like homicide, arson and assault are listed.

“It will help get better sentences, sway juries and make for better plea bargains,” said Madeline Bernstein, president and CEO of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles and a former New York prosecutor.

The category also will help identify young offenders, and a defendant might realize “if he gets help now, he won’t turn into Jeffrey Dahmer,” she said.

Law enforcement agencies will have to report incidents and arrests in four areas: simple or gross neglect; intentional abuse and torture; organized abuse, including dogfighting and cockfighting; and animal sexual abuse, the FBI said in statement. The bureau didn’t answer questions beyond a short statement.

Unfortunately, it will be January 2016 before this vital data on animal cruelty will even start to be collected – apparently it takes that long to put all the necessary systems in place.

This change of status is clearly a step in the right direction in the battle against animal cruelty. It seems to us that legislators still have much work to do in order to make a real difference.

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