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Salt Lake Community College

Forensic Science:
In the Criminal Justice System

Kayla Higgins
CJ 1010
Gary Cox
July 31, 2015

Forensic science, also can be referred to as forensics, is any science used in the court of
law. (AAFS) Some of those sciences could be biology, toxicology, odontology, or pathology. One
or more of the sciences can come together to analyze objects or people in order to gather
information needed for a case in the court of law. There are many different aspects in forensic
science they can range anywhere from the specific pieces of evidence picked up such as cloth
fiber or a shoe print to the technicians and scientists who test and process the evidence. Paul L.
Kirk, the Father of Criminalistics, said this about evidence, 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 that he deposits or collects all these and more bear mute witness against him. This is a great example of how important
evidence is. Even though there is a range of specimens they all are needed to come together to be
used in the criminal justice system.
The technicians and scientists who analyze evidence are the most important part. Without
them there wouldnt be a way to use evidence in the justice system. No one would be there to
analyze and eventually prove a person was connected to a crime or not. There are many types of
positions in the field of forensic science, some can be specific and focus on one particular aspect,
such as a Ballistics Technician, others are more general. Examples of jobs people can have
include: Crime Scene Investigator (CSI), Crime Lab Analyst, Crime Scene Technician, Technical
Investigator, Forensic Photographer, and Fire Investigator. There are many more jobs available in
the forensics field, but those are glimpses of what is offered. Most, if not all, of the jobs will
handle and work with pieces of evidence and document finding to ensure everything was done
correctly.

When most people hear criminal investigation they think of some sort of violent crime.
Although violent crimes have an abundance of evidence there are numerous investigations that
use forensics. For example, normal everyday crimes, cold cases, arson cases, sexual assaults, and
missing persons can be identified all using information from a crime scene. In every crime there
is some sort of evidence either left behind by people or created because of the crime. The
evidence can be used to prove someone committed the crime, who the victim(s) were, and what
took place and in what sequence.
Cold cases are a very unique kind of case in the criminal justice system. The definition of
a cold case can vary, but the basics are the same. According to the National Institute of Justice a
cold case is, any case whose probative investigative leads have been exhausted. Meaning there
is no people or objects available to move the case forward. This doesnt mean the case will never
get solved, but unfortunately it does happen from time to time. Most cases that are cold became
cold before the time when DNA technology became abundant. All evidence in cold cases is
kept for the specific reason there could be a chance the case could be opened again. This means
after crime labs have the capability for DNA testing they can open cold cases again and test
objects like hair, body fluids, or skin giving investigators more leads and possibly a conviction.
Another unique category of cases is arsons. They are one of the six crimes classified as
part 1 offenses by the Uniform Crime Report. The definition of arson is, the malicious burning
of another's house or property, or in some statutes, the burning of one's own house or property, as
to collect insurance. (Dictionary.com) Fire investigators collect evidence such as samples of
burned areas, specific devices if they think the fire was intentional, photographs of burn patterns,
and in the worse case, bodies could be recovered. Burn patterns are a peculiar piece of evidence
because it is not the normal type of evidence thought of, but is just a crucial. The patterns are

similar to blood splatters and can give just as much information. They help show the course of
the fire and, on good days, where the fire started. Fire Investigators goals are to determine if the
fire was accidental or deliberate, what caused the fire, where it started, and if there were
tampered items or accelerants used. If it was deliberate the person who caused it will be charged
with arson and most likely convicted after a trial.
Evidence has been mentioned a great deal and in a general sense. Exactly what evidence
is there and how does it help in a court trial? Evidence, as discussed before, can come in many
different forms, and can be sorted into different categories. A few of the categories consist of:
digital evidence, forensic DNA, impression/pattern evidence, trace evidence, pathology
examinations, odontology examination, toxicology analyses and one not thought of often, living
people or bodies. There are is a divergence in ways every specific piece of evidence can prove
facts and events. This supports prosecutors, or even the defense attorneys, cases presented in
court. At times, one piece of evidence can cross over into one or more categories. For example, a
body is found and the local CSIs come to process the scene like usual. When they take the body
back for the medical examiner to find out how the person died he may find a bullet. The bullet
can then be cleaned and compared to other bullets similar to it to determine what gun was used to
fire it. That one fact is evidence discovered from using pathology and ballistics, two types of
evidence.
Digital evidence, occasionally referred to as digital forensics, is any evidence put into
binary form. The evidence can be on computers, CDs, PDAs, flash drives, SD cards from
cameras or cell phones, or the cell phone itself. The physical device can be used in court to show
an e-crime such as a computer with child pornography or it can be something showing the crime
took place and who was there like a surveillance camera or e-mails linking suspects together.

Computer technicians study these devices, videos, or pictures to bring out the facts as to clearly
see them when they are presented in court. They may have to use programs to unlock password
protected devices, clear up an image in order to see the details, or decipher encrypted e-mails and
other online messages. Digital evidence is reliable sources that can be used in court to convict or
defend an individual.
Forensic DNA was talked about with cold cases, but only had its surface scratched. First
of all, there are many types of DNA samples investigators can collect from many diverse places.
The types of samples which can be collected include: blood/bloodstains, semen/seminal stains,
saliva/saliva stains, hair, tissue/skin (internal organs and muscles included), sweat, fingernail
clippings, bone, and teeth. The places samples can be collected from include: virtually any
surface at a crime scene, a body, or a living person. Next, after samples are collected and taken
back to the crime laboratories, they are tested. This means the DNA, usually of unknown origin,
is extracted and isolated from whatever the sample is and later the same thing happens to a
sample of known origin. (Origin, meaning the person who was the contributor of the DNA.) The
two samples are processed and compared so it can be discovered if the known sample is also the
origin for the unknown sample. If the results show the known sample is also the origin of the
unknown sample, further tests will be made along the DNA strands so it is made certain the two
samples are from the same person. If, after all the tests are completed, the two sample still show
they come from the same origin it could then be proven the individual was the one who
committed the crime and could be convicted.
Impression and pattern evidence consist of several items. Impression evidence is created
when two objects come in contact with enough force to cause an "impression." (NIJ)
Impressions can be two-dimensional, such as fingerprint, or they can be three-dimensional, like

the markings on a bullet from the barrel of a firearm or a mark left on a door frame after
someone tried or did break into a building. There are fingerprint specialists who can compare
fingerprints of a suspect or the victim to fingerprints found at the crime scene or on objects used
in the crime. This allows investigators to get an idea what happened during the crime and can or
cannot place someone where the crime occurred. Pattern evidence may be additional
identifiable information found within an impression. (NIJ) Examples of patterns are, a blood
splatter, burn pattern, a shoe print, or tire tracks. Examiners usually cannot take the physical
pattern or impression concluding in them having to take a picture or mold of the significant
marks. These pictures and molds can be taken into court to be used to testify for or against the
offender.
A particular form of evidence is trace evidence. These are clues that could be microscopic
and/or inconspicuous pieces. Things included as trace evidence are soil, gun residue, powders,
fibers (coming from cars, carpets, and clothes), pollen, flowers, or hair. Trace evidence is good
because it can link victims and offenders to a common place. It does this because traces are
transferred when people, objects, or environments come in contact with each other. For example
if someone is shot and killed the gun residue is left on the killers hands. That residue will stay
on their hands for a long time. Finding the person using other leads then analyzing them for
residue. If the results are positive there is one more fact against them. That, along with other
evidence against them, prosecutors can convict them.
One last example of a form of clues which are more uncommonly thought of are either
the victims or the offenders involved in the crime. One case was already mention, when an
offender shoots a firearm, residue is left on their hands. If caught in time the residue can be
analyzed and used against the shooter. Another example is if the victim survives they can testify

against the offender. This has happened before, it happened to Melissa Dohme in Clearwater,
Florida. On the night of January 24, 2012 she was brutally beaten and stabbed 32 times by her
abusive ex-boyfriend Robert Burton. She survived, unknowingly to Robert, she was in the
hospital for months slowly recovering. When Roberts trial started she was well enough to stand
in court and testify he was the one who had attacked her that night. He was convicted and
sentenced to life in prison without parole. This is one, extreme, example of how a victim can
help with the conviction process. In other domestic violence situations victims could be adults or
children. They themselves will have wounds and/or bruises showing they are being abused.
Pictures of the wounds can be sent to court along with the testimony of the victims.
One of the numerous sciences used to aid forensics is pathology. Pathology is the study
of the origin, nature, and course of diseases. (Dictionary.com) In the case of using it in forensics
it is not just diseases, it includes any cause of death which seems to be violent, unnatural, or
unusual. Their job is to perform an autopsy on human remains. An autopsy is, inspection and
dissection of a body after death, as for determination of the cause of death; postmortem
examination. (Dictionary.com) The purpose of an autopsy is to determine the cause and manner
of a death. The forensic pathologist can determine what weapons were used to cause the wounds,
how long the body has been dead, they may look at the persons medical history during their
examination. This can help him figure out if the death was natural, an accident, or a homicide.
Also during his examination he may find crucial pieces of evidence that needs to be handed over
to other technicians. For example they may find a bullet, a broken piece of the weapon, or a fiber
that could have come from the offender. Their findings and own conclusions about the body can
be used as a testimony against a defendant in court.

Another example of a science that can be used in a criminal investigation is odontology.


Odontology is the science dealing with the study of the teeth and their surrounding tissues and
with the prevention and cure of their diseases. (Dictionary.com) In forensics odontology is not
used for the cure of disease, instead odontologist are there to help identify remains too mangled
to be recognized. Bones are the most stable part of the body. They can last through
decompositions, fires, or most brutal beating. Odontologist can use the teeth from a body and
compare them to the dental records of the current recorded missing persons. In the worst
circumstance for investigators, the teeth are the only thing they have to make a case. He can put
the teeth back together and again compare them to missing persons reports. Just like the
pathologist, the odontologists testimony of their discoveries can be used in court as proof of a
crime.
One last example of a science in forensics is toxicology. Toxicology is the science
dealing with the effects, antidotes, detection, etc., of poisons. (Dictionary.com) Toxicology can
be used anywhere from a homicide investigation to a traffic stop, and used on victims and/or
offenders. Toxicologist can also be pathologist and visa versa. Either that or a department could
have two people who each specialize in one, but it is more likely for there to be multiple people
working in both fields simultaneously. Everyday policeman can be toxicologists as well. Every
time a cop stops someone for a DUI search and they perform a breathalyzer test they are
temporarily acting as a toxicologist. The main job of a toxicologist is to test subjects of poisons,
drugs or alcohol and find if any are present in an individual. The purpose of the analyses is to
determine the cause of death, illness, or physical and/or mental impairment. This is the same for
living and dead individuals all depending on the circumstances of the person. Other analyses that
could be performed on a living person are: taking a urine sample, evaluating the root of a hair, or

blood evaluations. Those same analyses could be done on a dead person, but they can also test
tissue samples and the contents of the persons stomach or other internal organ, including the
brain.
To conclude, forensics science, or forensics, is crucial to the criminal justice system.
There are many technicians, investigators, and scientist needed to be able to collect evidence,
perform the analyses of the evidence, and interpret the results of the evaluations. Every field of
science uses its own strengths and backgrounds in assisting in examining every scrap of
evidence. There are an abounding number of diverse types of evidence and clues used to prove
facts about a criminal act. Each specimen can give numerous amounts of facts and information
needed to be closely inspected to get every detail. These fragments of evidence can range
anywhere from anything and everything at a crime scene to the specific surveillance camera
pointed at the right spot or a computer with e-mails tracing back to someone who committed a
credit card fraud and everywhere in between. After there has been a generous amount of
evidence collected, and because the pieces can be so specific yet general at the same time, they
can be used to solve a divergence of criminal cases. They can solve cold cases that havent been
looked at in years, but they can also solve a crime that happened only a year or two ago. In
addition they can assist in solving unique cases like arsons and missing persons. Forensic science
is such a diverse field that can change from day to day. There are not very many lines of work
that do that this is what makes forensics exclusive and extraordinary.

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