science (often shortened
to forensics) is the application of a broad spectrum of sciences to answer
questions of interest to the legal system. This may be in relation to a crime
or to a civil action.
word forensic comes from the Latin adjective forensis meaning of or before
the forum. During the time of the Romans, 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. Basically, the person with the sharpest forensic skills would win.
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.
modern use, the term "forensics" in place of "forensic science" can be considered
incorrect 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".
of forensic science
"Eureka" legend of Archimedes (287-212 BC) can be considered an early account
of the use of forensic science. In this case, he determined that a crown was not
completely made of gold (as it was fraudulently claimed) by determining its density
by measuring its displacement and weight, as he was not allowed to damage the
account of fingerprint use to establish identity was during the 7th century. According
to an Arabic merchant, Soleiman, a debtor's fingerprints were affixed to a bill,
which would then be given to the lender. This bill was legally recognized as proof
of the validity of the debt.
first written account of using medicine and entomology to solve (separate) criminal
cases is attributed to the book Xi Yuan Ji Lu , translated as "Collected
Cases of Injustice Rectified"), written in Song Dynasty China by Song Ci 1186-1249)
in 1247. 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. 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.
sixteenth century Europe, medical practitioners in army and university settings
began to gather information on cause and manner of death. Ambroise Par, 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 which occurred in the structure of the
body as the result of disease. In the late 1700s, writings on these topics began
to appear. These included: "A Treatise on Forensic Medicine and Public Health"
by the French physician Fodar, and "The Complete System of Police Medicine"
by the German medical expert Johann Peter Franck.
1775, 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
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, England, 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,
England, 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 would pioneer
new forensic methods in Britain.
of forensic science
- 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 examination),
and other evidence in criminal investigations. Typically, evidence is processed
in a crime lab.
- Digital forensics
is the application of proven scientific methods and techniques in order to recover
data from electronic / digital media. DF specialist work in the field as well
as in the lab.
- 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 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
- Forensic geology deals
with trace evidence in the form of soils, minerals and petroleums.
- Forensic Interviewing is
a method of communicating designed to elicit information and evidence.
- Forensic odontology (dentistry) is the study
of the uniqueness of dentition better known as the study of teeth.
- 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 Document Examination
or Questioned Document Examination is the discipline that 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
also became a term in public speaking, based on Aristotle's interpretation of
the definition referring to "seeking the truth" through an argument or debate.
Today high schools and college teams compete in oratory genres including informative
speaking, persuasive argument, extemporaneous and impromptu speaking, as well
as dramatic events aimed at seeking the truth in character and situation, such
as poetry interpretation, prose interpretation, dramatic duo and monologue.
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:
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. However, 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.
science describes analyses or data developed 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.
(1962). Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250-1276.
Stanford: Stanford University
Kind, Stuart; Micael
Overman (1972). Science Against Crime. New York: Doubleday, pp.12-13.
Solomon, John. "FBI's Forensic Test Full of Holes", The Washington Post,
2007-11-18, p. A1.
Fernanda. "Evidence From Bite Marks, It Turns Out, Is Not So Elementary",
The New York Times,
McRoberts, Flynn. "Bite-mark verdict faces new scrutiny", Chicago Tribune,
Janet. "Judging Science", Science News, 2008-01-19,
pp. 42 (Vol. 173, No. 3).
Against Crime by Stuart Kind and Michael Overman. Doubleday, 1972.
- The Forensic Examiner,
peer-reviewed scientific journal of The American College of Forensic Examiners
Reckoning: The New Science of Catching Killers by Michael Baden, M.D, former
New York City Medical Examiner, and Marion Roach. Simon & Schuster, 2001.
- Guide to Information
Sources in the Forensic Sciences by Cynthia Holt. Libraries Unlimited,
Science: Methods of Forensic Detection by Joe Nickell and John F. Fischer.
University Press of Kentucky, 1999.
- Forensic Sculpting,
by Seth Wolfson. Realsculpt Press, 2005.
- Anil Aggrawal's
Internet Journal of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology.
Science Communications, an open access journal of the FBI.
- Forensic Materials
Engineering: Case Studies by Peter Rhys Lewis, Colin Gagg, Ken Reynolds. CRC
- Forensic Magazine
- The Internet Journal of Biological Anthropology.
- All About Forensic
Forensics, by M.T. Bookler, McGraw Hill Publications, 1992.