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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Forensic science (often shortened to forensics) is the application of a broad spectrum of sciences to answer questions of interest to a legal system. This may be in relation to a crime or a civil action. The word forensic comes from the Latin adjective forensis, meaning "of or before the forum." In Roman times, a criminal charge meant presenting the case before a group of public individuals in the forum. Both the person accused of the crime and the accuser would give speeches based on their side of the story. The individual with the best argument and delivery would determine the outcome of the case. This origin is the source of the two modern usages of the word forensic – as a form of legal evidence and as a category of public presentation.

In modern use, the term "forensics" in place of "forensic science" can be considered correct as the term "forensic" is effectively a synonym for "legal" or "related to courts". However, the term is now so closely associated with the scientific field that many dictionaries include the meaning that equates the word "forensics" with "forensic science".

Contents

History

Antiquity and the Middle Ages

The ancient world lacked standardized forensic practices, which aided criminals in escaping punishment. Criminal investigations and trials relied on forced confessions and witness testimony. However, ancient sources contain several accounts of techniques that foreshadow the concepts of forensic science developed centuries later, such as the "Eureka" legend told of Archimedes (287–212 BC).

The first written account of using medicine and entomology to solve (separate) criminal cases is attributed to the book of Xi Yuan Lu (translated as "Washing Away of Wrongs"), written in Song Dynasty China by Song Ci (宋慈, 1186–1249) in 1248. In one of the accounts, the case of a person murdered with a sickle was solved by a death investigator who instructed everyone to bring his sickle to one location. (He realized it was a sickle by testing various blades on an animal carcass and comparing the wound) Flies, attracted by the smell of blood, eventually gathered on a single sickle. In light of this, the murderer confessed. The book also offered advice on how to distinguish between a drowning (water in the lungs) and strangulation (broken neck cartilage), along with other evidence from examining corpses on determining if a death was caused by murder, suicide, or an accident. Police started using fingerprints for evidence when Juan Vucetich solved a murder case in Argentina by cutting off a piece of door with a bloody fingerprint on it.

Modern history

In 16th-century Europe, medical practitioners in army and university settings began to gather information on cause and manner of death. Ambroise Paré, a French army surgeon, systematically studied the effects of violent death on internal organs. Two Italian surgeons, Fortunato Fidelis and Paolo Zacchia, laid the foundation of modern pathology by studying changes that occurred in the structure of the body as the result of disease. In the late 18th century, writings on these topics began to appear. These included: A Treatise on Forensic Medicine and Public Health by the French physician Fodéré, and The Complete System of Police Medicine by the German medical expert Johann Peter Franck.

In 1776, Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele devised a way of detecting arsenous oxide, simple arsenic, in corpses, although only in large quantities. This investigation was expanded, in 1806, by German chemist Valentin Ross, who learned to detect the poison in the walls of a victim's stomach, and by English chemist James Marsh, who used chemical processes to confirm arsenic as the cause of death in an 1836 murder trial.

Two early examples of English forensic science in individual legal proceedings demonstrate the increasing use of logic and procedure in criminal investigations. In 1784, in Lancaster, John Toms was tried and convicted for murdering Edward Culshaw with a pistol. When the dead body of Culshaw was examined, a pistol wad (crushed paper used to secure powder and balls in the muzzle) found in his head wound matched perfectly with a torn newspaper found in Toms' pocket. In Warwick in 1816, a farm labourer was tried and convicted of the murder of a young maidservant. She had been drowned in a shallow pool and bore the marks of violent assault. The police found footprints and an impression from corduroy cloth with a sewn patch in the damp earth near the pool. There were also scattered grains of wheat and chaff. The breeches of a farm labourer who had been threshing wheat nearby were examined and corresponded exactly to the impression in the earth near the pool. Later in the 20th century, several British pathologists, Bernard Spilsbury, Francis Camps, Sydney Smith and Keith Simpson pioneered new forensic science methods in Britain. In 1909, Rodolphe Archibald Reiss founded the first school of forensic science in the world: the "Institut de police scientifique" in the University of Lausanne (UNIL).

Subdivisions

  • Forensic accounting is the study and interpretation of accounting evidence.
  • Forensic anthropology is the application of physical anthropology in a legal setting, usually for the recovery and identification of skeletonized human remains.
  • Forensic archaeology is the application of a combination of archaeological techniques and forensic science, typically in law enforcement.
  • Forensic astronomy uses methods from astronomy to determine past celestial constellations for forensic purposes.
  • Forensic botany is the study of plant life in order to gain information regarding possible crimes.
  • Forensic chemistry is the study of detection and identification of illicit drugs, accelerants used in arson cases, explosive and gunshot residue.
  • Computational forensics concerns the development of algorithms and software to assist forensic examination.
  • Criminalistics is the application of various sciences to answer questions relating to examination and comparison of biological evidence, trace evidence, impression evidence (such as fingerprints, footwear impressions, and tire tracks), controlled substances, ballistics, firearm and toolmark examination, and other evidence in criminal investigations. In typical circumstances, evidence is processed in a crime lab.
  • Forensic dactyloscopy is the study of fingerprints.
  • Digital forensics is the application of proven scientific methods and techniques in order to recover data from electronic / digital media. Digital Forensic specialists work in the field as well as in the lab.
  • Forensic document examination or questioned document examination answers questions about a disputed document using a variety of scientific processes and methods. Many examinations involve a comparison of the questioned document, or components of the document, to a set of known standards. The most common type of examination involves handwriting wherein the examiner tries to address concerns about potential authorship.
  • Forensic DNA analysis takes advantage of the uniqueness of an individual's DNA to answer forensic questions such as paternity/maternity testing or placing a suspect at a crime scene, e.g., in a rape investigation.
  • Forensic engineering is the scientific examination and analysis of structures and products relating to their failure or cause of damage.
  • Forensic entomology deals with the examination of insects in, on, and around human remains to assist in determination of time or location of death. It is also possible to determine if the body was moved after death.
  • Forensic geology deals with trace evidence in the form of soils, minerals and petroleum.
  • Forensic limnology is the analysis of evidence collected from crime scenes in or around fresh water sources. Examination of biological organisms, in particular, diatoms, can be useful in connecting suspects with victims.
  • Forensic linguistics deals with issues in the legal system that requires linguistic expertise.
  • Forensic meteorology is a site specific analysis of past weather conditions for a point of loss.
  • Forensic odontology is the study of the uniqueness of dentition better known as the study of teeth.
  • Forensic optometry is the study of glasses and other eye wear relating to crime scenes and criminal investigations
  • Forensic pathology is a field in which the principles of medicine and pathology are applied to determine a cause of death or injury in the context of a legal inquiry.
  • Forensic psychology is the study of the mind of an individual, using forensic methods. Usually it determines the circumstances behind a criminal's behavior.
  • Forensic seismology is the study of techniques to distinguish the seismic signals generated by underground nuclear explosions from those generated by earthquakes.
  • Forensic serology is the study of the body fluids.
  • Forensic toxicology is the study of the effect of drugs and poisons on/in the human body.
  • Forensic video analysis is the scientific examination, comparison, and evaluation of video in legal matters.
  • Mobile device forensics is the scientific examination, and evaluation of evidences found in Mobile Phone, e.g. Call History, Deleted SMS etc., also include SIM Card Forensics
  • Trace evidence analysis is the analysis and comparison of trace evidence including glass, paint, fibers, hair, etc.
  • Forensic podiatry is an application of the study of foot, footprint or footwear and their traces to analyze scene of crime and to establish personal identity in forensic examinations.

Notable forensic scientists

Questionable techniques

Some forensic techniques, believed to be scientifically sound at the time they were used, have turned out later to have much less scientific merit, or none. Some such techniques include:

  • Comparative bullet-lead analysis was used by the FBI for over four decades, starting with the John F. Kennedy assassination in 1963. The theory was that each batch of ammunition possessed a chemical makeup so distinct that a bullet could be traced back to a particular batch, or even a specific box. Internal studies and an outside study by the National Academy of Sciences found that the technique was unreliable, and the FBI abandoned the test in 2005.
  • Forensic dentistry has come under fire; in at least two cases, bite mark evidence has been used to convict people of murder who were later freed by DNA evidence. A 1999 study by a member of the American Board of Forensic Odontology found a 63 percent rate of false identifications and is commonly referenced within online news stories and conspiracy websites. The study was based on an informal workshop during an ABFO meeting, which many members did not consider a valid scientific setting.

Litigation science

Litigation science describes analysis or data developed or produced expressly for use in a trial, versus those produced in the course of independent research. This distinction was made by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals when evaluating the admissibility of experts.

This uses demonstrative evidence, which is evidence created in preparation of trial by attorneys or paralegals.

Examples in popular culture

Sherlock Holmes, the fictional character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in works produced from 1887 to 1915, used forensic science as one of his investigating methods. Conan Doyle credited the inspiration for Holmes on his teacher at the medical school of the University of Edinburgh, the gifted surgeon and forensic detective Joseph Bell. Agatha Christie's, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple Book and television series were also a big hit worldwide.

Decades later, the comic strip Dick Tracy also featured a detective using a considerable number of forensic methods, although sometimes the methods were more fanciful than actually possible.

Defense attorney Perry Mason occasionally used forensic techniques, both in the novels and television series.

Popular television series focusing on crime detection, including The Mentalist, CSI, Cold Case, Bones, Law & Order, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Silent Witness, Dexter, Case Closed and Waking the Dead, depict glamorized versions of the activities of 21st- century forensic scientists. Some claim these TV shows have changed individuals' expectations of forensic science, an influence termed the "CSI effect".

Non-fiction TV shows such as Forensic Files, The New Detectives, American Justice, and Dayle Hinman's Body of Evidence have also popularized the area of forensic science.

The Ace Attorney series features forensic science, mainly in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney and the DS-only game in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.

Controversies

Questions about forensic science, fingerprint evidence and the assumption behind these disciplines have been brought to light in some publications, the latest being an article in the New York Post. The article stated that "No one has proved even the basic assumption: That everyone's fingerprint is unique." The article also stated that "Now such assumptions are being questioned -- and with it may come a radical change in how forensic science is used by police departments and prosecutors."

On June 25, 2009, the Supreme Court issued a 5-to-4 decision in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts stating that crime laboratory reports may not be used against criminal defendants at trial unless the analysts responsible for creating them give testimony and subject themselves to cross-examination. The Supreme Court cited the National Academies report Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States in their decision. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia referenced the National Research Council report in his assertion that "Forensic evidence is not uniquely immune from the risk of manipulation."

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Forensic science" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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