Order in The Court: Forensic Advancements and their Impact on Law
“Abby was right. The first test picked up donor DNA, our John Doe is Lance Corporal Danforth” (Binder). Many people have watched crime shows and heard something similar where a victim is identified with ease or a criminal is apprehended in 60 minutes.
These crime shows illuminate the speed and ease of getting a perfect DNA match or fingerprint match, and for many, this is from where their limited knowledge of forensics comes. Unfortunately, a 45-minute television program does not even begin to cover forensics. Forensic science is the application of science to criminal and civil laws (Saferstein), and it focuses on taking scientific techniques and applying them to different types of physical evidence. Forensic science is unique in that there is constant interaction between forensic scientists and law officials, similar to what is portrayed on television. Just as on television, in criminal trials there are often juries, and the members of these juries are given a set of instructions. In courtrooms, jurors are told not to let anything else besides what has been disclosed in the courtroom influence their opinion.
For a juror, that means no researching the case, asking friends for their opinion, or talking to witnesses. It means not using what Abby Sciuto from NCIS did to determine if a piece of forensic evidence is scientifically sound to influence a decision. It means to use only what has been told in the courtroom to make a decision. Now more than ever, as society becomes more intertwined with technology, there have been several developments in forensics, and though these changes may not be as advanced as TV shows make them seem, the advancements in forensics have impacted trial proceedings, as well as legal statutes that are passed.The evolution of forensics is quite extraordinary. It has, over time, rapidly evolved in terms of technology and as well as development and growth.
Many of these achievements in the field of forensics can be credited to certain individuals, ” Individuals such as Bertillion, Galton, Lattes, Goddard, Osbron, and Locard, who developed the principles and techniques needed to identify or compare physical evidence” (Saferstein). These people created the base upon which the rest of forensic science was built. However, much of forensic science does not deal with simply science. Forensics combines the legal system with science. An early example of this is, “the Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s was responsible for police placing greater emphasis on scientifically evaluated evidence.
” (Saferstein) This example serves to demonstrate the earl interactions that occurred between forensics, the court, and law enforcement. This might seem like fast progress, but it actually is not. The FBI’s first forensic crime lab was not even set up until 1932 (Watson), demonstrating just how large the gap in forensic development actually was.Forensics is a fairly modern field, yet it has been around for thousands of years. For example, the first use of fingerprinting dates back to the time of the ancient Chinese when they used fingerprinting to identify business documents (Watson). This can count as one of the first uses of forensics as a method of identification.
After the Chinese came Sir Edward Henry. Sir Edward Henry invented a classification system for fingerprints that is used now (Saferstein). These days, society has abandoned the use of inking and instead turned to new technology and systems, such as AFIS, as a way to help catalog and match fingerprints to those of a suspect. However, forensics has not progressed only in the area of fingerprinting. DNA analysis is another advancement in forensics that has evolved.
In the early stages, analyzing a sample of DNA required a large sample, but now, the technology to obtain and analyze particularly small samples of DNA has finally been developed (Murnaghan), thus allowing for faster processing and accurate results. The reason for this gradual change is due to the scarcity of technology. Because it was unavailable in earlier times, it was harder to process and analyze DNA as well as obtain helpful results from the DNA analysis. Alongside this shortage of technology and resources, forensics was also not as popular. This absence of attention, when combined with the fact that forensics was still a developing field, explains why there was not much funding available, and thus why it was difficult to dedicate resources to developing new technology.
Technology and years of technique have allowed forensic scientists to go from needing a cup of blood to identify the DNA to needing a drop of blood to identify the DNA. Due to faster processing of evidence as well as newer, high-tech and modernized machines, DNA can be much easily processed.Another point is that because techniques have evolved, the collection and preservation of evidence has become more reliable and much better maintained. For example, at a crime scene, investigators proceed with the utmost caution to prevent any sort of contamination or cross-contamination from occurring (Saferstein). Forensics has also suffered some drawbacks; for example, comparative lead-bullet analysis.Comparative lead-bullet analysis has been abandoned because it is no longer accurate in this ever-changing society (Giannelli).
The reason behind the abandonment of this type of analysis is that as forensics has evolved, so has the regulations by which evidence must be processed and analyzed, and some techniques tend to became outdated and therefore unreliable.With the change in technology, Forensics has made great leaps in DNA Analysis. For example, a new technique has been developed that involves burning hair and analyzing the vapors released to obtain DNA (Queen’s University). When given first glance, this technique can actually seem to be helpful because it seems to cut down on the time it takes to process DNA and may even help clear up the backlog that occurs at forensic labs. However, just because something is efficient does not mean that it is reliable. Because courts have strict guidelines on the admission of evidence, not all advancements are actually advancements.
Sometimes, a new technique is often regarded with uncertainty because while it may provide many benefits, the consequences of using it are unknown and that is a big risk to take, especially in a court of law where every shred of scientific evidence is weighed carefully by the jury and is vocal in the charges of the defendant (Herren). To conclude, the evolution of new techniques in different fields of forensics help to establish how forensics is an ever-changing field, and how these advancements are either benign or detrimental not only to the scientific community but also to the legal community.Mixing forensics and the law is a slow process. Laws revolving around forensics are slow to change, so as a result, extreme scrutiny is placed on using forensic evidence in court to ensure the evidence being entered into court is reliable. In many cases, because the evidence that is used in cases is so crucial, it is often placed under extreme scrutiny before it is admitted into court (Herren). For example, in criminal cases, because the jury can only make their decision based on what is presented in court, it is imperative to make sure that what is allowed into court is scientifically sound, or else it could end up wrongfully swaying the opinion of the jury.
Forensics is also highly glamorized by various television shows such as CSI or NCIS. These shows cause jury members to expect more scientific evidence (Gross). When that expectation is not met and there is a lack of scientific evidence, it often leads to jury members wrongfully acquitting guilty defendants (Clarke). This constant wrongful acquittal has been dubbed “The CSI Effect” by the media because it is so often seen happening in courts. The CSI Effect is also one of the reasons why forensic experts are often brought into court to testify. The forensic experts are there to explain to the jury, in laymen’s terms, the step-by-step process of what happens in terms of analyzing evidence and why certain evidence may have been inconclusive.
This explanation helps the jury understand that their knowledge of forensics does not truly cover all of forensics and does not educate them on all that occurs in an actual forensics crime laboratory.A case that happened a while back was that a rape occurred to two teenage girls, and though there was a numerous amount of evidence against the attackers, the attackers were still set free (Cowan). The way this case was handled demonstrates how simply having evidence is not enough. It is up to the court system as well as the prosecutor to get that evidence submitted and present it in front of the jury. Evidence is important, but it cannot always speak for itself; the way it is presented also makes a difference. That is why law and forensics both go hand-in-hand because both fields contribute something to a case to reach a verdict.
As the forensic field progresses, so does law.Now, if criminal defendants wish to provide evidence of DNA matches in court, they conduct additional testing to prove the DNA is a true match (MD High Court Requires Additional DNA Testing for Admissibility). This exhibits how the court system now requires even more proof before allowing evidence to be presented in court. It also demonstrates the strict regulations that revolve around evidence, and it shows just how much the importance is actually placed on the evidence admitted. Another change in the law is that defense attorneys must now have the same burden of proof as prosecutors when it comes to presenting evidence in the courtroom (MD High Court Requires Additional DNA Testing for Admissibility).
This shows how the courts want stricter rules when it comes to admitting evidence because by making it difficult to admit evidence for both the prosecution and defense as opposed to before when the burden fell on just one of the sides, it seems practices are becoming more fair.There are also strict rules crime laboratories must follow when dealing with evidence. For example, when conducting fingerprint matches, each time a match is made by a fingerprint examiner, another fingerprint examiner must also match it and corroborate the results (Herren). This is done so if there is a problem later on in court, the crime lab analysts can show that the problem was not because of them. This is also why paperwork such as chain of custody is filled out; it shows who was responsible for what piece of evidence at what time, which allows everyone to know what was happening with the evidence at a specific point in time.
This proves that the standard for forensic evidence has changed, and it is still difficult to use forensic evidence to win a case in court because there is so much scrutiny placed on forensic evidence. So what has advanced technology allowed society to do? Well, because of the advanced technology and knowledge available, forensic mistakes committed in the past can now be rectified. An example of this is in the case of Leanne Tiernan. Leanne was brutally murdered, and from her clothes, specifically her scarf, authorities were able to discover a dog hair. It is in this case that Dog DNA profiling was conducted for the first time, and it was done to match a dog hair found on the victim to the dog of a suspect (Elvidge).
Authorities were able to take the tool used for DNA profiling and apply it to a dog hair that was recovered and thus narrow down the suspect list. While this may not have been admissible in court, it still allowed authorities to be positive of the suspect, and use that as a starting point to gather more admissible evidence against the suspect that would. The reason this would not have been admissible is because it involved doing DNA profiling on a dog hair, which is something that had never been done before. There would need to be many more similar analyses conducted in this manner and this practice would have to be approved first by the scientific community before the courts could approve it. Unfortunately, there are several instances in which many have been wrongfully accused and convicted.
For example, a man was serving a life sentence due to a chemical analysis tying him to incriminating evidence, but now it has been discovered that the analysis conducted was improper (Goho). However because of the advanced techniques that have been created, scientists are now able to go back and look at cases, such as this one, and see that the chemical analysis that was conducted in this man’s case was actually flawed. Scientists can then re-conduct any necessary tests, provided the evidence still exists and has not deteriorated. All of this is possible only because of the advanced technology that exists.The numerous resources available to those in the forensics field such as the growing number of forensic labs as well as companies that do only forensic testing such as Bode Technology have allowed the field to continue to grow and develop more techniques to simplify the forensics process.
Often times, when watching the news or reading the newspaper, there tend to be headlines about how a certain murder or rapist may have been caught. However these headlines are not always accurate. Uriah Courtney was wrongfully imprisoned for the rape of a young girl. After several years, he was freed because it was discovered his DNA was not actually on the evidence (Fitzpatrick). This case is different because it shows how DNA evidence can still be used, even after a verdict has been reached. Before, there used to be no DNA tests, so cases such as these were not given a second glance.
However, due to advances in DNA profiling and analysis, forensic scientists can now go back and re-evaluate cold cases, such as in the case of Anotini Imiela, who raped seven women and young girls in a year before he was finally caught (Elvidge). While this may not necessarily be a cold case, it does prove a valid point; advances in DNA profiling are allowing for quicker processing and results.When society thinks of cold cases, the question that tends to pop up often is, “what if we had the technology now, available back then?” The Innocence Project answers that question. The Innocence Project focuses on re-evaluating cold cases that could have had a different outcome had there been more advanced technology available. Originally, Uriah Courtney was imprisoned; however, due to advanced techniques authorities were able to identify a third unidentifiable set of DNA and thus exonerate Uriah Courtney and eliminate him as a suspect.
This case would be an example of a possible case that could have suffered from The CSI Effect. If there were two sets of DNA discovered on the evidence, the results may have been inconclusive. This would mean that there could not be any positive identification match made. Jury members may have refused to convict the defendant because on television shows, usually there is a match. This allows people to learn and see just how far the forensic science has truly advanced and how it can be used to make sure less innocent people suffer a guilty sentence.
Forensic science has contributed greatly to society, and the developments in forensic science have forever changed the way in which evidence is interpreted in a court of law. Without forensic science, society would not have any sort of scientific system for personal identification, Advances in forensics have allowed for effective DNA profiling as well as blood typing. However at the same time these advancements have resulted in careful scrutiny that may have caused the forensic field to backslide. Also, the ever-growing presence of forensics on TV shows has affected not only those serving as jurors in court but also the general public. This distortion of forensics has greatly impacted the perception of forensics.
Avid fans of crime-scene shows may believe what they see when characters, such as Horatio Caine from CSI: Miami says “The evidence is all that matters,”(CSI: Miami) but they fail to realize that the evidence is just one piece of the puzzle needed in a criminal trial. By tracing the evolution of forensics and noting the speed with which it moves, it is easier to see why so much scrutiny is placed on a single piece of evidence and why authorities are cautiously using advanced technology to rectify forensic mistakes from past cases.