FORENSIC SCIENCE AND LAW
Updated: Feb 14, 2021
Nikhita S, I Year of BBA.,LL.B, from IFIM Law School, Bangalore.
Most of us would have a basic idea about what forensic science is. We have so many crimes related movies and books that talk about it. But how many of us know what it exactly means and how it plays a vital role in the legal field? How many of us are aware about the role that forensic evidences play in the course of investigation?
In this article, we will have a glimpse of what forensic science is, how it helps in the study of law, how proper use of forensic evidence helps in providing justice and lot more.
What is Forensic Science?
Forensic science is the application of scientific knowledge and methodology to criminal investigations and legal problems. It is the science used within the criminal justice system. This connection of science and law provides new ways and methods for finding the real culprit and delivering justice.
The word “forensic” is derived from the Latin word “forensis” which means forum, a public place where, in Roman times, senators and others debated and held judicial proceedings.
Forensic science is used to investigate criminal cases involving a victim, such as assault, kidnapping, rape, murder, robbery. It is also used in civil cases such as forgeries, fraud, or negligence.
Forensic science is a multidisciplinary subject. It incorporates various fields of science such as chemistry, biology, physics, geology, computer science, psychology, social science, engineering etc.
How does Forensic Science help in the study of law?
Forensic science plays a great role in the study of law. It has the power to provide justice and ensures that the guilty is punished for his crime. It has the ability to recreate a complete crime scene.
Forensic science is a boon to the judicial system as it helps in capturing most of the evidence from a crime scene. It throws light on the smallest details and minute evidences that cannot be seen through naked eyes but may serve as an exceptional lead in the case.
Forensic evidence consists of all the physical objects that can be observed by the five human senses. They are analysed according to their relevance to the events that occurred at a crime scene.
Physical evidences are objects that can establish that a crime has been committed or can establish a link between a suspect and the victim of the crime with each other and with the scene of crime.
The term criminalistics refers to the scientific collection and analysis of physical evidence in criminal cases. Several different types of physical objects like painting, pieces of glass, soil, blood, semen, saliva, hair and fibers, nail clippings, fingerprints, footprints, palmprints, bullets, tyre and shoe marks are some of the commonly found evidences. Any physical item can be a source of information that assists the investigator in reconstructing the sequence of occurrences.
The significance of each evidence is often unknown at the time of collection from the scene of crime. But as the investigation proceeds further, seemingly important evidence at the time of collection may not be able to contribute much and vice-versa. For these reasons, the forensic scientist needs to cover every corner of the crime scene and treat each and every piece of evidence as vital. Every little object at a crime scene must be considered to be significant until thoroughly examined in the laboratory or till the investigation reaches the conclusion.
“Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as silent evidence against him. Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibers from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen he deposits or collects – all these and more bear mute witness against him.”
- Paul Kirk*
How forensic evidences play an important role in the course of investigation?
Forensic science is an essential element in criminal investigations. It has a remarkable contribution in solving criminal cases of different types. Without the application of forensic science, criminals can never be convicted unless an eyewitness is present. After the crime is detected, police and other law enforcement agencies are involved in the collection of evidence. The investigating officer tries to collect maximum evidence found at the site of the crime; be it physical or digital because a tiny proof can bring up and down in the case. And it is forensic science that deals with the analysis of those evidence to establish the facts admissible in the court of law. Thus, without the help of forensic science, murderers, thieves, drug traffickers and rapists would be roaming scot-free.
Forensic science plays a crucial role in investigations as it provides scientific based information through the analysis of the physical evidences. It helps in the identification of the culprit through personal clues left by him at the crime site like fingerprint, blood drop, hair, mobile phones or any other gadgets.
The scientists who deal with forensic science are the central figure in the process of investigation. Forensic scientists are those people who help to collect, preserve, and examine physical evidence during the course of an investigation. A forensic scientist must be methodical, accurate, organized, detail-oriented, unbiased and possess high ethical standards. Their handling of evidence is of utmost importance in gaining a conviction against a suspect.
The duties and responsibilities of a forensic scientist in a criminal investigation are critical as it involves the careful examination of evidence while ensuring that it is not tampered with.
Forensic scientists include crime scene investigators who collect evidence from the scenes of crimes and technicians who work mostly in a laboratory setting. They are the key factor in the course of investigation as they are the ones who deal with the evidences found and are also required to testify in the court about their findings, observations, and conclusions.
Proper analysis of forensic evidences will provide a clarity about the culprit and help in nabbing him sooner. For instance,
Forensic pathologists are skilled at determining the cause of death by performing autopsies. An autopsy helps establish the cause and manner of death through the examination of body fluids and tissues.
One of the techniques of forensic science is dusting the scene of a crime for fingerprints. Because no two fingerprints are, the same, fingerprinting provides a positive means of identification. The latest technology allows law enforcement officers to record fingerprints digitally and to transmit and receive fingerprint information electronically for rapid identification. DNA fingerprinting provides an excellent way to analyse blood, hair, skin or semen evidence found at the crime scene.
Forensic professionals use image modification tools to search for criminals absconding from the law for a long time. This tool allows them to digitally age a photograph to understand how the individual would look at aging.
Forensic science not only helps in the detection of alcohol in blood, but also drugs, such as cocaine, heroin etc.
Forensic science can help in finding out if death occurred due to drowning. When a body is discovered in a lake, stream, river or ocean and the lungs are found to be filled with water, the medical examiner must determine if the drowning occurred where the body was found or elsewhere. A Diatom (single-celled algae) test can help in confirming the cause of death and possible site of drowning and also help in deciding ante-mortem and post- mortem drowning, i.e., whether the person was alive on entering the water.
Forensic science can be used to identify the types of weapons used. For e.g., if a gun was fired, the gun type, gunpowder particles, the bullet type can be identified. Forensic examination of substances found at a crime scene often can establish the presence of the suspect at the scene.
Human bite marks also can serve as circumstantial evidence. Such bites may be found upon the body of a homicide victim or within pieces of food or other objects found at the crime scene, such as chewing gum. A forensic scientist can fill the impressions caused by these bites with liquid plastic. Upon hardening, the cast formed is an extremely accurate replica of the assailant’s teeth, which can be compared with a cast made from the teeth of the suspect.
Forensic engineers provide courts with expertise in areas such as the design and construction of buildings, vehicles, electronics, and other items.
Forensic linguists determine the authorship of written or recorded documents through analysis of handwriting, syntax, word usage, and grammar.
Forensic anthropologists identify and date human remains such as bones.
Forensic geneticists analyse human genetic material, or DNA, to provide evidence that is often used by juries to determine the guilt or innocence of criminal suspects.
Forensic phoneticians deal with issues such as the validity of tape-recorded messages, the identification of speakers on recorded messages, the enhancement of recorded messages and the use of voiceprints.
Like these, there are plenty of methods which can be used depending upon the case to identify the culprit.
How the proper use of forensic evidence can help in providing justice?
The proper analysis and use of forensic evidences can give a lot of leads to the investigator about the culprit and take the investigation in the right direction.
In the Sister Abhaya murder case, the guilty were given punishment in the year 2020, after 28 years of the crime. The case was totally based on circumstantial evidence as there were no eyewitnesses for the crime. The case was tried to be closed as a suicide at different points of time, but that was not accepted by the Court.
The forensic medical experts conducted post-mortem to find out the cause of death and injuries on the victim’s body. The CBI conducted a dummy test, and the forensic team said that the possibility of homicide cannot be ruled out. The wounds and the crime scene were analysed, and finally, it was found to be a murder. Thus, the application of forensic science helped in providing justice to Sister Abhaya.
One important aspect related to forensic science is protecting the crime scene so that the evidence can be collected and preserved properly without being tampered. This is to keep the pertinent evidence uncontaminated until it can be recorded and collected. The successful prosecution of a case depends on the state of the physical evidence at the time it is collected. The protection of the scene begins with the arrival of the first police officer at the scene and ends when the scene is released from police custody. There is a duty of the first person arriving at the scene to protect the scene from curious onlookers and family members.
Nothing on the scene should be changed, touched or altered until the investigating officer takes a proper note. Once any material object of a dead body is moved from its place, it can never be restored to its original position. That scene, once touched or altered, will make the task very difficult for an investigator.
After taking immediate action to preserve the crime scene, the Investigator should then proceed to record the evidence. He should seek the help of two reliable witnesses, preferably from the neighbourhood of the crime scene, as their presence will strengthen the case of the prosecution at the time of trial. No evidence should be picked up or touched or disturbed till every minute details have been described in a notebook.
In the case of Aarushi Talwar, the crime scene was not secured properly by the police and some of the forensic evidences were found to be tampered with and destroyed. Due to this, the case took various twists and turns, and the real murderer is unknown.
Thus, the proper use of forensic evidences and protection of the crime scene plays a very important role in delivering justice.
If appreciated and employed properly at the crime scene, forensic science might act as a powerful and effective tool to investigate the crime and prosecute the criminal. It can be seen as a blessing to the criminal justice system. It can help to reveal the facts in any type of case or situation involving physical evidences, provided the crime scene is protected. Safeguarding and preservation of evidences are fundamental to the successful solution of a crime.
*Paul Leland Kirk was a biochemist, criminalist and participant in the Manhattan Project who was specialized in microscopy.
Role of Forensic Science in a Criminal Investigation – https://indianlawportal.co.in/role-of-forensic-science-in-a-criminal-investigation/
Forensic Significance of Physical Evidences in Crime Scene Investigation – https://lawcorner.in/forensic-significance-of-physical-evidences-in-crime-scene-investigation/