Role of doctors in forensic science

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Role of doctors in forensic science

Forensic science

The term forensic science involves forensic or forensis in Latin which means a public discussion or debate. In a more modern context, forensic applies to courts or the judicial system. Forensics is the term given to an investigation of a crime using scientific means. It is also used as the name of the application of scientific knowledge to legal matters.

Forensic Science: Solving crimes

Forensic science is an umbrella term used for a collection of scientific procedures that can be employed when it comes to providing evidence that a crime has been committed and also provides ways and means of proving how a crime has been committed. It is the study of all of the available information and evidence that is gathered from a crime scene. With the advancements of science, most forensic science techniques are a common and necessary part of a criminal investigation.

Role of Forensic doctor

Forensic doctors collect, preserve, and analyze scientific evidence during the course of an investigation. While some forensic scientists travel to the scene to collect the evidence themselves, others occupy a laboratory role, performing analysis on objects brought to them by other individuals. Forensic doctors provide impartial scientific evidence for use in courts of law to support the prosecution or defense in criminal and civil investigations. They are primarily concerned with searching for and examining contact trace material associated with crimes. This material can include:

  • Blood and other body fluids

  • Hair

  • Fibers from clothing

  • Paint and glass fragments

  • Tyre marks

  • Flammable substances used to start fires

Importance of Forensic science

Forensic science plays a vital role in the criminal justice system by providing scientifically based information through the analysis of physical evidence. During an investigation, evidence is collected at a crime scene or from a person and then analyzed in a crime laboratory and the results presented in court. Each crime scene is unique, and each case presents its own challenges. The field of forensic science draws from a number of scientific branches, including physics, chemistry, and biology, with its focus being on the recognition, identification, and evaluation of physical evidence. It has become an essential part of the judicial system, as it utilizes a broad spectrum of sciences to achieve information relevant to criminal and legal evidence. Forensic science has become an integral part of many criminal cases and convictions with objective facts through scientific knowledge serving both defense and prosecution arguments.

Forensic science may prove the existence of a crime, the perpetrator of a crime or a connection to a crime through the:

  • Examination of physical evidence

  • Administration of tests

  • Interpretation of data

  • Clear and concise reporting

  • Truthful testimony of a forensic scientist

Forensic doctors generally perform their work inside the forensic or crime laboratory where they are responsible for comparing and interpreting the physical evidence that was retrieved by crime scene investigators at the scene of the crime. In specific circumstances, forensic doctors may be required at the crime when the methods or techniques surrounding the collection or preservation of the physical evidence are in question.

Types of Doctors in the Forensic Field

When a crime is committed and the forensic team is called in, it involves many experts, including doctors. Although all these people could be considered forensic scientists, they have specific areas that they work in.

  • Field officers: These people are technicians who visit crime scene and collect the physical evidence which may be related to the crime. They write down and record the scene by taking photographs and videos.

  • Lab officers: These are those who are responsible for analyzing and carry out tests on the evidence collected by the field officers.

Sometimes the above mentioned two roles are broken into expert areas. These include:

  • Crime scene investigator: This person visits the scene of the crime to find, collect, protect and transport all the evidence to the crime lab.

  • Latent print examiner: This expert examines fingerprints, palm prints and footprints.

  • Firearms examiner: This specialist examines the evidence to identify what type of firearm was used by comparing bullet and shell casings and searching for and identifying gunshot residue.

  • Tool mark examiner: They look for any distinctive marks that may have been left by tools that the criminals used.

  • Document examiner: This expert examines any documents left at the scene. Document examiners determine authenticity and authorship. They also look for any changes in the original documents and may be asked to ID if a particular copier or typewriter has been used to create the document.

  • Trace evidence examiner: These specialists are responsible for analyzing and comparing any traces that the criminal may have left behind such as hair, fibers, glass, soil and paints.

There are also some additional experts who are called upon if the crime involves finding a body. The roles specifically relating to examining remains or murders are:

  • Forensic Pathologist: These are medical doctors who perform autopsies on deceased individuals to determine the cause of death.

  • Forensic Anthropologist: Theses experts gather and interpret the evidence to assist in the identification of human remains and the cause of death.

  • Forensic Odontologist: These experts are basically forensic dentists. They deal with the application of dental science in the identification of unknown human remains and bite marks. Forensic dentists use both physical and biological dental evidence to solve medicolegal problems, including identifying human remains that result from crimes, terroristic activities, and natural disasters.

  • Forensic Entomologist: Entomology is the study of insects. They use their knowledge of insect life cycles to determine the time of death. It is common for bodies that have been found sometime after death to be invaded by hungry insects. This expert can also use their knowledge of where different insects live to work out if a body has been moved or not.

Responsibilities of Forensic Doctors:

There is a degree of cross-over and typical work responsibilities which are performed.

  • Carrying out laboratory examinations and analyzing samples submitted by law enforcement agencies and medical examiners.

  • Recording findings and collecting trace evidence from scenes of crimes or accidents.

  • Serving as expert witnesses in a court of law.

  • Carrying out tests using scientific techniques, such as infrared spectroscopy, mass spectrometry, and scanning electron microscopy, gas and high performance liquid chromatography and genetic fingerprinting.

  • Attending and examining scenes of crimes.

  • Ensuring that all laboratory protocols and regulations are followed

  • Inputting data into computer programs and utilizing relevant computer database information

  • Overseeing the maintenance and calibration of laboratory equipment

  • Presenting results of work in written form or by giving oral evidence based on evidence analysis.

  • Inputting relevant data into computer program

  • Coordinating the activities related to crime scene collection, preservation, and transportation.

  • Serving as a liaison between the forensic laboratory and crime scene investigators.

  • Developing, maintaining and updating work quality standards, standard operating procedures, and similar methods and procedures.

  • Coordinating work with other members of the forensic team and with outside agencies.

What Forensic Science Technicians Do?

Forensic science doctors aid criminal investigations help by collecting and analyzing evidence. Many technicians specialize in either crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis. Most forensic science technicians spend some time writing reports.

Duties at crime scenes:

Forensic science doctors typically do the following:

  • Analyze crime scenes to determine what and how evidence should be collected

  • Take photographs of the crime scene and evidence

  • Make sketches of the crime scene

  • Record observations and findings, such as the location and position of evidence

  • Collect evidence, including weapons, fingerprints, and bodily fluids

  • Catalog and preserve evidence for transfer to crime labs

Duties in laboratories:

Forensic science doctors typically do the following:

  • Perform chemical, biological, and microscopic analyses on evidence taken from crime scenes

  • Explore possible links between suspects and criminal activity, using DNA or other scientific analyses

  • Examine digital media for pertinent information

  • Consult with experts in specialized fields, such as toxicology (the study of poisons and their effect on the body) and odontology (science dealing with teeth)

  • Reconstruct crime scenes

Tool kit for a forensic doctor:

The forensic doctors required to find, collect, protect and transport evidence from the crime scene require a kit of tools to use. Although each forensic doctor may do things a little differently, there are typical tools that they all use. These are:

  • Crime scene tape to secure the scene and the area around which the crime took place.

  • Camera and film to photograph scene and evidence.

  • Gauges to place in photos to allow for recording of scale.

  • Sketchpad and pens for scene sketches.

  • Disposable and protective clothing (overall suits), face masks and gloves (usually latex gloves).

  • Torch

  • Other light sources such as laser, ultra violet (UV) and infrared (IR) lighting. These different lights can uncover certain types of evidence that normal torchlight cannot.

  • Magnifying glass to help with finding trace evidence.

  • Tweezers for collecting evidence such as hair and fibers.

  • Cotton wool buds (cotton swabs) for collecting samples of fluid evidence.

  • Evidence bags (paper and plastic) and evidence tubes (plastic and glass) and marker pen to label evidence. This assists in keeping evidence uncontaminated and allows for safe and easy transport to the lab.

  • Fingerprint supplies includes things like ink, print cards, lifting tape, dusting powders and exposing reagents such as luminol.

  • Casting kits for making casts of shoe/footwear prints, animal prints, tyres and tool markings.

  • Serology kit for collecting blood.

  • Entomology kit for collecting and preserving insect evidence.

  • Hazard kit for handling hazardous materials/evidence.

Skills in Forensic doctors

Forensic science uses a lot of different skills. These include:

  • Observational skills to be able to find and compare evidence properly. To be able to discover things the untrained eye may miss.

  • Evidence collection and analysis: This is vital to the role of a forensic scientist. Evidence that is collected needs to be well documented and it is important that contamination of evidence does not occur. To collect evidence a forensic scientist needs to be methodical and accurate.

  • Scepticism: Healthy scepticism is an important part of investigating crimes. Everyone is a suspect until something concrete proves otherwise. It is also important to understand that witness accounts are not always very accurate.

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