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Introduction to Forensic Science

Q: What is Forensics?
• “Forensic” derives from the
Latin word forensis which
means “of the forum”
• The form was an open area
where scholars would gather
to debate and discuss issues
• Forum is historical equivalent
of modern-day courts
• Thousands of years ago,
crimes were solved by debate

Q: What is Forensics?
• Debating and arguing is NOT forensic science.
• Definition: the application of a broad spectrum of
sciences and technologies to investigate crimes and to
establish what occurred based on collected evidence.
• Forensic science is strictly concerned with uncovering
evidence that stands as fact.
• It is using science to help in legal matters, such as crimes.

Q: What is Forensics?
• A forensic investigator is not interested in making the
suspect look guilty
• Interested in collecting and examining physical evidence,
reporting this to investigators, and possibly later to courts.

• Lawyers then partake in a more Roman-style forensics
and try to convince the jury by constructing a plausible
story around these facts.

Q: What do Forensic Scientists Do?
• Act as expert witnesses for prosecution lawyers
• Examples of specialties
• Forensic Pathologists: medical doctors who determine the
cause and manner of death
• Forensic Entomologists: study insects to determine time of
death and location of a corpse
• Forensic Anthropologists: examine human skeletal
remains
• Forensic Toxicology: study the effects of poisons, toxins
and drugs in the body
• Forensic Psychiatrists and Psychologists: evaluate
offenders, also profiling criminal cases

Q: What do Forensic Scientists Do?
• Find, examine, and evaluate evidence from
crime scenes
• find—identify the evidence.
• document—record the evidence.
• interpret—accurately determine the significance
of the evidence.

Q: What skills do Forensic Scientists need?
• Analytical Skills
• The ability to identify a concept or problem, isolate its
component parts, establish criteria for evaluation, draw
appropriate conclusions

• Deductive Reasoning
• Deriving the consequences from the facts using a series of
logical steps

Q: What skills do Forensic Scientists need?
• Observational Skills
• Observation: what we perceive using our 5 senses (hear,
touch, taste, smell, see); factual

• Trained forensic investigators collect all available
evidence, without making judgments about its potential
importance
• Knowing which evidence is important requires the ability to
recreate the series of events preceding the crime

Q: What is observation?
• Why are we not aware of all the information our senses
are gathering at any time?
• Simple answer: we cannot pay attention to everything
at once.
• Our brain selects what information to take in, we apply a
filter

Q: What is observation?
Info from
our
senses

What we
pay
attention
to

Perception

Short
Term
Memory

We pay attention to what we think is important.
Importance can be decided by several factors
Paying attention to details requires a conscious effort.

Long
Term
Memory

Q: What is observation?
• Our brains will also “fill-in the blanks” and apply our
previous knowledge to new situations.

Q: What is observation?
Inference: logical interpretation of information based on
prior knowledge and experience; based on observations
• Example: When you entered the room on the first day
of school, you most likely inferred that the individual in
the front of the room is the teacher.

Q: What is observation?
• Observations and inferences are not the same
thing
• As an investigator, work to record systematic
observations NOT inferences

Q: How can I be a better observer?
• Remember:
• YOU are not naturally inclined to pay attention
to all surroundings…You must make a conscious
effort to systematically examine an environment
• YOU are naturally inclined to filter out
unimportant information…but, in a forensic
situation you don’t know at first what is or is not
unimportant…DON’T FILTER AND ANALYZE when
observing.

Q: How can I be a better observer?
• Remember:
• YOU are inclined to analyze what you observe,
find patterns, and make connections…Focus on
information gathering and clear observing prior
and separate from analysis.
• YOUR memories are faulty…When ever possible,
document, write down, measure, and photograph

Q: How can I be a better observer?
• Observe systematically
• Start at one part of a crime scene and run your eyes slowly over
every space.
• Do not assume that later on you will be able to remember
everything.
• Do not pay attention to only what you think is important.
• Make a conscious effort to pay attention to all the details in your
surroundings.
• Do look for patterns and make connections…BUT ONLY AFTER you
complete observing

In terms of crime scene investigation, who else needs
to be a good observer?

Eyewitness Testimony

Essential Vocabulary
• Eyewitness: a person who has seen someone or
something and can communicate these facts
• Testimonial evidence: oral or written statements given to
police as well as testimony in court by people who
witnessed an event.

Q: What factors affect a person’s memory?
• What we perceive about a person depends on his
or her mannerisms and gestures
• How a person looks, walks, stands, and uses hand
gestures all contribute to our picture of his or her
appearance

Q: What factors affect a person’s memory?
• What we perceive about a person depends on
how distinctive they appear
• Especially attractive or especially unattractive people
are more memorable

Q: What factors affect a person’s memory?
• Our emotional state influences our ability to see and
hear what is happening around us.
• If people are very upset, happy or depressed, they are more
likely to not notice their surroundings.

Q: What factors affect a person’s memory?
• Our emotional state influences our ability to see and
hear what is happening around us.
• Anxiety also plays a big part in what we see and what we can
remember.
• Our fear at a stressful time may interfere with an accurate
memory.

Q: What factors affect a person’s memory?
• Age may play a role in the accuracy of an eyewitness
statement or identification of a suspect.

• The elderly and children are better are recognizing the actual
culprit in a line up but are also more likely to accuse an
innocent person if the perpetrator is not in the line up

Q: What factors affect a person’s memory?
• The race of the witness may also play a role.

• The Cross Race Effect (CRE) is a phenomenon in which
people are better at recognizing faces of their own race
rather than those of other races.
• 65% v. 45%

Q: What factors affect a person’s memory?
• Our mental state

• Being under in the influence of alcohol or drugs
• Being extremely tired

• Outside influences

• Other witnesses
• Crime Scene Personnel
• The media
• The “Bunny Effect”

Q: What factors affect a person’s memory?
• Other factors affecting our observational skills
include:
• Whether you are alone or with a group of people
• The number of people and/or animals in the area
• What type of activity is going on around you
• How much activity is occurring around you

Q: What Can We Do With Eyewitness Testimony?
• A facial composite is a graphical presentation of an
eyewitness's memory of a face, as recorded by a composite
artist.
• Used mainly by police in their investigation of (usually serious) crimes.

• Basic premise: every face has numerous, distinguishable
landmarks, the different peaks and valleys that make up
facial features
• The FBI maintains that hand-drawing is still the correct
method for constructing a facial composite.
• Many police agencies, however, use software, since developed artistic talent is
often not available.
• Most popular = FACES

Q: What Can We Do With Eyewitness Testimony?
• FACES defines facial
landmarks as nodal points
(approx. 80/face)




Distance between the eyes
Width of the nose
Depth of the eye sockets
The shape of the cheekbones
The length of the jaw line

• These nodal points are
measured creating a
numerical code, called a face
print, representing the face in
the database.

Crime Scene Protocol

Q: Who makes up the CSI team?
• Traditionally, the team is made up of legal and
scientific professionals who work together to solve
a crime.
• Professionals at the scene of a crime may include
police officers, detectives, crime-scene
investigators, district attorneys, medical examiners,
and scientific specialists.

• Let’s look at a few of these in depth…

Q: Who makes up the CSI team?
• Police officers:
• Responsible for securing the
scene and separating
witnesses.

• Detectives:
• Look for leads by
interviewing witnesses
• Talk to the crime-scene
investigators about the
evidence

Q: Who makes up the CSI team?
• Crime-scene investigators:
• Document the crime scene
in detail
• Collect physical evidence.

• Medical examiners
(coroners):
• Determine the cause of a
death when a homicide
has occurred.

Q: Who makes up the CSI team?
• Specialists: i.e; entomologists, forensic scientists,
and forensic psychologists
• May be consulted if the evidence requires their
expertise.

Q: Who makes up the CSI team?
• The DISTRICT ATTORNEY
• Often present to help determine if any search
warrants are required to proceed and obtains
those warrants from a judge.
• Know Your Rights!
• Search Warrants
• An order signed by a judge that authorizes police
officers to search for specific objects or materials at
a definite location at a specified time.

Search Warrants
• The police can search ONLY the • Search warrants ARE NOT
place described in a warrant
required when
• If the warrant specifies a
• There is consent
certain person to be searched,
• Contraband or evidence
the police can search ONLY
is “in plain view”
that person unless they have
probable cause to search other
• There has been an
persons on the scene
arrest

• There is an emergency
situation

Search Warrants
• What about cars…?
• Cars may be searched without a warrant
whenever the car has been validly stopped and
the police have probable cause to believe the car
contains contraband of evidence
• All compartments and packages that may
contain the evidence or contraband being
searched for are fair game

Q: How do we secure a crime scene?

Q: How do we secure a crime scene?
1. Secure the scene
2. Separate the witnesses
3. Scan the scene
4. See the scene
5. Sketch the scene
6. Search for evidence
7. Secure and collect evidence

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Types of Evidence
U1: Crime Scene Basics

Essential Vocabulary
• Evidence: something legally submitted to competent tribunal as a means
of ascertaining the truth of any alleged matter of fact under investigation
• Trace Evidence: small but measurable amounts of physical or biological
material found at a crime scene
• Direct Evidence: evidence that (if true) proves an alleged fact, such as an
eyewitness account of a crime
• Circumstantial Evidence: (indirect evidence) evidence used to imply a
fact but not prove it directly
• Individual Evidence: a kind of evidence that identifies a particular
person or thing
• Class Evidence: material that connects an individual or thing to a
certain group

Q: What are the different types of
evidence?
Evidence

Direct

Circumstantial

Physical

Biological

Q: What are the different types of evidence?

Direct evidence includes:
• Firsthand observations
(eyewitness accounts or
video evidence)
Direct
Circumstantial
• In court = witness
testimony about what
that witness personally
Physical Biological
saw, heard, or did.
• Confessions
Evidence

Q: What are the different types of evidence?
Evidence

Direct

Circumstantial

Physical

Biological

• Circumstantial
evidence is indirect
evidence that can be
used to imply a fact
but that does not
directly prove it
• May provide a link
between a crime
scene and a suspect

Q: What are the different types of evidence?
• Circumstantial evidence
can be:

Evidence


Direct

Circumstantial

Physical

Biological

Physical
• Impressions such as
fingerprints, footprints,
shoe prints, tire
impressions, and tool
marks.
• Reduces the number of
suspects to a specific,
smaller group of
individuals

Q: What are the different types of evidence?
Evidence

• Circumstantial evidence
can be:

• Biological
Direct
Circumstantial
• Body fluids, hair, plant
parts, and natural fibers
• May make the group of
suspects very small, or
Physical Biological
reduce it to a likely
individual

= more persuasive in court

Q: How else can we classify evidence?
Class

Narrows identity to a

group of person/things

Individual
Narrows identity to a
single person or thing

Q: How else can we classify evidence?
Class

Individual

Narrows identity to a
group of person/things

Narrows identity to a
single person or thing

E.g.: Blood Type

E.g.: Fingerprints

Q: What can evidence do for investigations?






May prove that a crime has been committed
Establish key elements of a crime
Link a suspect with a crime scene or a victim
Establish the identity of a victim or suspect
Corroborate verbal witness testimony
Exonerate the innocent.
Give detectives leads to work with in the case

Evidence Cards

Locard’s Exchange Principle

Q: What is the Principle of Exchange?
To a forensic examiner, transferred materials
constitute what is called trace evidence.
• Pet hair on your
• Paint chips
clothes or rugs
• Broken glass
• Hair on your brush
• A fiber from clothing
• Fingerprints on a glass
• Soil tracked into your
house on your shoes
• A drop of blood on a
T-shirt

Q: What is the Principle of Exchange?
• Who was the first person to note this principle…?

Q: What is the Principle of Exchange?
Whenever two people come into contact
with each other, a physical transfer occurs.

Q: What is the Principle of Exchange?
• The second part of Locard’s principle states that the
intensity, duration, and nature of the materials in
contact determine the extent of the transfer.

CSI: Fact or Fiction?

• What is the CSI Effect?
• How have crime shows altered jury expectations?
• What are some of the misconceptions jurors who watch
these shows have about evidence and forensic science?
(Include AT LEAST 3 examples!)
• What are some of the differences between CSI and real
life forensics?

“A phenomenon reported by prosecutors
who claim that television shows based on
scientific crime solving have made actual
jurors reluctant to vote to convict when, as
is typically true, forensic evidence is
neither necessary or available.”

• The CSI effect is caused by people believing the
things that they see on television.
• Shows like CSI, NCIS, or Law and Order, use over the top
methods of finding evidence and investigating as a way
of grabbing the attention of viewers.

Q: What is the CSI Effect?
• Watching television shows like CSI and
Cold Case Files give citizens a distorted
view of how forensic evidence is found
and what technology is available to
forensic scientists.
• Some examples include:
• Process times for DNA/fingerprints
• Getting molds of wounds to match
to weapons
• Amount of information you can get
from a piece of evidence

• Due to people believing everything is as
easy as on TV, jurors are demanding more
evidence in criminal trials and raising the
standard of proof for prosecutors.
• Viewers of the crime scene shows put a lower
value on circumstantial evidence and demand
physical proof, proof that doesn’t always exist.

CSI

REAL LIFE

• Fingerprints are everywhere. • Fingerprints are hard to come

by at a crime scene.
• DNA takes minutes to process. • DNA can take weeks to process
• Investigators need to obtain a
warrant before making an
• Investigators don’t have to
arrest or searching a scene

wait for warrants.

CSI
• Chaotic crime scenes
• No tedious paperwork
• One person does many
jobs

REAL LIFE
• Crime scenes are a
controlled environment.
• Paperwork has to be
proper for case to stand
strong in court.
• Jobs are split between
multiple people.

CSI
• Characters on television
use the term “match” to
describe a definitive
relationship between two
pieces of evidence.

REAL LIFE
• Forensic technicians tend
to use terms that are less
definite to acknowledge
that absolute certainty is
often not possible.

Jurors in criminal cases may fail to convict
someone who is guilty due to a lack of hightech physical evidence
• Very few cases go to trial, and the ones that do are the
violent offenders