It is hard to escape forensic science. It is all around us, in television, movies and in real life. Almost every day some cold case from years past is solved with new or improved forensic approaches.
DNA is a prime example.
Crime Scene Investigation and forensic science have allowed white-coated scientists to take a centre stage. “Forensic science” seems to imply integrity, honesty and glamour as we search for truth and justice and to make our world a safer place.
The problem is we are dealing with science and scientific principles and people. Any or all of which can create mistakes.
Some forensic scientists want people to believe that they maintain a “zero” rate of error. Any true scientist knows that is impossible. Dirty glassware, tired examiners, and bosses pushing for performance all can affect the reliability of a forensic answer.
For example DNA is widely perceived by both Jurors and lawyers to be an exact science, but it is not.
There can be multiple reasons why DNA can be at the scene of a crime, but one should remember even if it is confirmed that it is your DNA this is not a confirmation of when you were at the crime scene, if at all.
What is required is expert analysis of the forensic evidence whether it be DNA, Fingerprint or Gunshot/Firearm Discharge Residue. Items that are examined can easily be contaminated by the scene of crime officers or others.
DNA can easily be transferred to an item or another individual who transfers it to the crime scene simply for instance by shaking hands, smoking a cigarette, passing an item to another etc.
DNA profiling produces amazing numbers: ‘1 in a billion chance that the DNA came from another unrelated person’. But this statistic can be meaningless unless each piece of DNA has been properly identified .
What you should know is that Forensic science is not an exact science and you should not assume that because the word science is mentioned by the police that you will be found guilty of a crime.
DNA typing is a powerful, useful, and revolutionary forensic technique. Many of the benefits of its development have already been realized in the closing of otherwise impossible-to-solve cases and in the exoneration of wrongly convicted individuals. Yet despite its formidable power, it is not a perfect and purely objective science..
Forensic science, often used to produce evidence for criminal trials using such techniques as fingerprint analysis, is “badly fragmented” and unreliable. Crime laboratories around the country are grossly underfunded, lack a scientific foundation and are compromised by critical delays in analysing physical evidence.
We live in a culture obsessed by CSI and NCIS. Testifying in a 1989 murder trial in upstate New York, a forensic scientist explained that the imprint on a pickup owned by the accused could have been made only by the victim’s jeans—of which a mere 200 had been sold in the area. The scientist described her meticulous analysis of fabric and stitching; soil from the truck also matched dirt at the crime scene. The jury bought it: guilty.
If this had been a TV show in which forensic science solves murders through bite marks, footprints, even sand grains (a match between the grit on a suspect’s shoe and the beach where the victim was killed!), that would have been the end of it. In real life, the convicted man was innocent, as DNA analysis revealed (he was freed in 2008). It was no aberration.
According to the Innocence Project, of the 252 DNA exonerations since 1989, half the convictions were based at least partly on “unvalidated or improper forensic science.”
The surprise is that the rate isn’t higher: a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences found that, in contrast to DNA matching, “for many other forensic disciplines—such as fingerprint and toolmark analysis—no studies have been conducted” to determine how many shoes, teeth, fibres, sand grains, or anything else “share the same or similar features” and so might be linked to the wrong person.
As a result, invalid forensic science “may have” helped convict innocent people. None the less, Police Officers will often say to an accused we have found your DNA or other scientific evidence at the scene of the crime and that this proves their guilt. The accused believing himself to be innocent panics as he can offer no legitimate explanation.
You should not panic, at Aamer Anwar and Co, we have access to some of the country’s top Forensic Scientists who have regularly appeared in court and demolished a crown case based on what was assumed to be an ‘open and shut case’. You can be assured that we will leave no stone unturned in forensic examination.