Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

The Role of Forensics in Solving Crimes

One of the most important aspects of criminal justice is forensic science, or the practice of scientifically examining physical evidence collected from the scene of a crime or a person of interest in a crime. Many people consider forensic science the application of science to law enforcement.

If there are no known witnesses to a crime, sometimes forensic evidence is all prosecutors have to work with. For instance, if human remains are found dumped in a ravine and have decayed to the point where they cannot be recognized, forensic scientists use DNA from the body, examine dental work and even study the skeletal structure to determine who the person was. They use the evidence they have to narrow down possibilities and determine if the person was a male or a female. Sometimes forensic scientists can determine cause of death and if foul play may have been involved.

Two of the most common crimes that are determined in the forensic science lab are drug-related crimes and sex crimes. It is in the crime lab that the chemical makeup of an unidentified substance recovered from a suspect is determined to be cocaine, marijuana or a controlled substance. This is used as evidence in court to prove that a person was in possession of illegal drugs. Forensic toxicology can determine if a person was drunk or high behind the wheel of a car after a fatal accident, or if someone was poisoned to death. DNA evidence recovered from a victim’s body can help determine who was responsible for a physical or sexual assault. This evidence is commonly used in court to put sex offenders and child molesters behind bars, and to set innocent people free.

Weapons testing, or ballistics, is another important part of forensic science. Forensic scientists use their knowledge of ammunition and study the impact of a bullet to determine how many shots were fired, where a shooter was standing when he or she fired, and even if a victim was shot at point blank.

Forensics is also important in identifying the culprits of various cyber crimes. Databases are searched, IP addresses are traced and documents are recovered by computer forensic specialists to determine who was responsible for stealing funds electronically. This evidence is used to prove a suspect’s guilt for major white collar crime, such as Ponzi schemes, embezzlement and fraud.

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