Forensic: relating to or dealing with the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems (Merriam-Webster dictionary definition)
Back when I began in the Police Department (longer ago than I care to admit) the word ‘forensic’ was rarely used by police officers on the street. We knew to be careful if we were first to arrive at crime scene so that potential evidence wouldn’t be compromised, and the detectives pointed us to what needed to be preserved or uncovered so that a case could be proved. We dealt with physical collection, not analysis.
Analysis of the evidence is in the purview of the forensic scientists, the detectives, and the D.A.’s office.
Forensic Science is the broad term encompassing a wide range of forensic specialties and these days, is often shortened to ‘forensics,’ as in: ‘Let’s take a look at the forensics on the case.’ But what area of forensic science is required to solve a case? It depends. The prosecutor doesn’t need the findings from a dental x-ray when dealing with a known victim, but might need the results of a forensic toxicologist’s tests to determine a seemingly suspicious cause of death.
Most evidence is collected from the scene of the crime by trained local law enforcement personnel (that includes the photographer and the fingerprint person) in smaller jurisdictions, specifically assigned crime scene investigators (CSIs) in larger municipalities, and if needed, the forensic scientists themselves.
For the most part, the processing of body evidence is completed in labs or during autopsies in hospital, police, or State morgues. Other than body tissue or bodily fluids, things that shouldn’t be there (bullets, metal fragments, gravel, etc.) are sent out for testing. Experts might be tapped for their opinions about certain marks on the body that would have caused a blunt force trauma or other types of violent death, or for the condition of recovered remains.
Non-body evidence would be gathered from the scene and sent for processing to a lab that specializes in that area of analysis. Most States in the USA have centralized labs for various umbrellas of expertise, since smaller towns just don’t have the financial wherewithal (equipment and personnel) to handle finite investigations. In these days of post CSI TV shows, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike need to nail down the suspect’s guilt with absolute certainty for the public, so they rely on forensic test results and/or experts in the field to convince the jury of a suspect’s guilt or innocence.
So, who does what and how do they help the prosecution or defense teams? Listed below are some of the many forensic specialties.
Bloodstain Pattern Specialist determines the point of origin of an impact pattern as well as the movement of people after being hit or shot.
Digital Forensic Analyst recovers or investigates data from electronic or digital media, including audio and video recordings, and computers. These days, the skill set may also include the ability to investigate cellphones and other mobile devices for the call history, deleted messages, and corrupted SIM cards.
Forensic Accountant finds accounting discrepancies and interprets them for fraud or tax evasion cases as well as other criminal activities.
Forensic Anthropologist helps identify skeletonized human remains.
Forensic Ballistics expert investigates the use of firearms and ammo from a crime scene.
Forensic Botanist can determine where a body or suspect may have been because of the plant life found in or around the body or suspect.
Forensic Chemist detects and identifies illegal drugs seized during a drug bust, or found in a body.
Forensic DNA analyst does paternity/maternity testing or places a suspect at a crime scene.
Forensic Document Examiner interprets document evidence to determine authenticity of wills or potential forgeries.
Forensic Entomologist exams insects in, on, and around human remains to help establish the time and place of death.
Forensic Facial Reconstructionist works with the skulls of recovered remains to identify them.
Forensic Geologist analyzes trace evidence establishing where a body was killed or whether it was moved to a different location.
Forensic Limnologist analyzes evidence collected in or around fresh water sources. Examination of biological organisms can connect suspects with victims.
Forensic Odonatologist compares dental records with teeth of the corpse when facial recognition isn’t likely or possible.
Forensic Pathologist applies principles of medicine and pathology to determine a cause of death or injury for legal purposes.
Forensic Photographer creates an accurate photographic record of a crime scene to aid investigations and court proceedings.
Forensic Serologist tests body fluids for rape cases or to determine if blood on the body belongs to that person or someone else.
Forensic Toxicologist analyzes the effect of drugs and poisons on the human body.
Trace Evidence Analyst analyzes trace evidence including glass, paint, fibers, hair, etc. that occurs when different objects contact one another.
Shoe companies, gun manufacturers, tire companies, etc. all keep records of their products made and distributed over time. In the age of computers, some enterprising criminalists created a variety of national databases with information on multiple companies and their products. The goal? To make it easier to match up shoe prints, or skid marks, or bullets to a particular person or crime scene. With a little luck, and research/chemical testing, even filed down serial numbers can be revealed, and a firearm can be traced back to its manufacturer, point of sale, and the owner. Tire impressions at a crime scene can be matched to a database to discover the make and model of a vehicle that may have been there. Distinctive shoe prints in the mud outside a house can be matched to a suspected burglar, or rule him/her out.
Who makes sense of all of the information observed and gathered at a crime scene? Generally, it’s a team effort, not the achievement of just one person that heroically solves the mystery of the who, what, when, where, and why of a crime scene. But the Forensic Scientists (or Criminalists) play a big role in identifying the pertinent pieces of the puzzle. They can answer questions about what they discovered while comparing body evidence, trace evidence, fingerprints, footwear impressions, drugs, ballistics, paper trails, etc., and the detectives or investigators most familiar with the case pull it all together.
Somebody asked me recently if just anyone can tack ‘Forensic’ in front of their job title. Not likely. For instance, a Forensic Accountant is much more than a savvy bookkeeper. They have advanced degrees and certifications specifically geared toward discovering whether a crime has occurred in complex situations, evaluating whether there might have been criminal intent, and then communicating that information in a way that a layperson can understand it. From Investopedia.com: “The reason we understand the nature of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme today is because forensic accountants dissected the scheme and made it understandable for the court case.”
This level of expertise is required in every area of forensic analysis.
“Who Murdered Jake?” in Kerrian’s Notebook, Vol. 2: Fun, Facts, and a Few Dead Bodies
*Photos by Patti Phillips
TASER devices and stun guns each have slightly different functions, but the common purpose is to shock the aggressor and allow time to move strategically for improved control over the situation, without using lethal force. A TASER can be shot from a distance, and a stun gun requires direct contact with the attacker.
This stun gun has sharp points which might pierce clothing and will even set off an electric charge if somebody tries to grab it.
Other stun guns resemble cellphones, while another type looks just like a mag light. Neither has great power, so in order to get close enough to use it effectively, an attacker may be able to get the upper hand against an untrained civilian. Some stun guns are in the shape and length of a baton (12-19 inches) allowing the user to be a step or two away, rather than just at arm’s length.
In many states, law enforcement groups have been using stun guns to subdue targets for years. Pepper spray occasionally blows back at the user, so private citizens sometimes opt for using a stun gun as a self-defense tool.
Designed in the 1960s for use in tight spaces (inside airplanes) when firing a gun would be especially dangerous, a Taser is considered a safer (non-lethal) alternative to a handgun if used correctly. Concerned about a rise in gun-related injuries during arrests or captures, some law enforcement jurisdictions around the country have required that Tasers and/or stun guns be added to their officers’ equipment belts, giving the officer a choice in tense or escalating situations.
How does a Taser work? The cartridge contains 15-20 foot wires with probes attached at the end. The wires shoot out when the weapon is used. When the probes reach the target, they deliver a shock as well as pain, but this will only happen if both probes insert into the person’s body. In general, the person loses muscle control when hit with the probes, making an arrest easier or allowing the officer to stop an ongoing attack.
There are a variety of Tasers on the market, some of which guarantee contact even through clothing. Some recent Taser models also include the stun gun feature so that the prongs don’t have to be fired during every use.
One criticism of some Tasers is that they can misfire, causing real problems for the officer during an attack. The LATimes ran an article about the issue, comparing effective use in successive years:
Less critical, but potentially disturbing to a civilian Taser owner, is that storage in the home might become an issue. A curious friend or neighbor happening upon the Taser might fire it ‘just to see what it does.’ If it happens to misfire accidentally, somebody could get hurt. Burn marks on floors and ceilings from mis-firing have been reported by Kerrian followers, even when the Tasers have been handled properly. (True story)
Expense is a factor. Stun guns usually cost between $10 and $30. TASER devices have a lot more power and are a lot pricier because of that – running anywhere between $450 to $1,100. If the department in a town of 100,00 people has 180 officers working in the field and the units cost a minimum of $450 each – do the math. That’s an initial hit to the city budget of $81,000 and that’s before the replacement cartridges, etc. Each time the Taser is fired, it needs to be recharged and in some cases, a new cartridge must be inserted – at a cost of between $25 to $35 each.
Need to replace the Kevlar vests this year (a necessity every five years) or get that new million dollar fire truck the city needs so badly? Even if the Taser (or stun gun) is a great idea, the budget may not be able to handle it. So, if your town’s officers would like to have that option available to them, grants and donations from local law enforcement supporters may need to be sought out.
As of 2018, four states required background checks for Taser ownership.
Two (2) states where Tasers and stun guns are completely banned for use for anyone other than law enforcement:
But, most states do not regulate the purchase of Tasers or stun guns. That means no training requirements, background checks, or paperwork. Anyone in those states can buy and use them for self-defense. In many states, it is illegal to carry a concealed stun gun outside of your own home, and specifically illegal to carry it on school property. In some jurisdictions, stun guns are considered dangerous or deadly weapons, and as such, fall under those laws. Deadly weapons are generally banned from:
It’s important to note about ownership of either a stun gun or a Taser or a combo of the two:
If someone falls and suffers a heart attack or other injury during the commission of a crime after being shocked with a stun gun or Taser, there are serious consequences. Instead of seeing its non-lethal purpose, the court may conclude that the tragic result came from the use, not the intent. i.e. the person might not have had the heart attack if not for being Tasered. If that happens, we now have a deadly weapon, and the legal concerns change under the law.
What are your thoughts about the use of Tasers and/or stun guns? Let us know in the comments below.
*Photos from Amazon
Many warm thanks to all the Kerrian followers. Readership was up by over 50% in 2019. That’s not a typo. You spread the word and people kept on reading and sharing.
The Kerrians’ 2019 was a year of returning to fan favorite topics that focused on how law enforcement officers work, with the result that four of those articles were in the TopTen new articles for the year.
Interest continues in the new recipes from the Kerrian Kitchen and we’re delighted that you enjoy them as well! Like I keep saying, we taste-test everything and nobody ever died after eating at our house. 😉
Sadly, suicide is on the rise in the USA again and the interest in the article seen here is welcome. It is based on the death of a real family friend. Pass along the information to others, please.
Here are your Top Ten favorites from 2019:
(Click on the links and enjoy them again or read them for the very first time.)
10: “Greek Salad”
3: “SWAT Team Experience”
2: “Cucumber Slushies”
Keep a lookout for changes at the Kerrian website. Many will be behind the scenes as we make www.kerriansnotebook.com more cellphone friendly.
The changes will occur over the next few months and I’ll let you know through the newsletters and on Facebook as soon as they happen.
Happy New Year, everyone, and keep those cards, emails, letters, and messages from around the world coming. We read and enjoy them all! 🙂