Criminalistics (Forensic Science)
The term “criminalistics” is often used interchangeably with “forensic science,” and criminalistics may be broadly interpreted as the science of policing or the profession of forensic science. A narrower definition of criminalistics, however, focuses on the use of scientific principles in the evaluation of physical evidence of crimes. Science has an important role to play in the criminal justice system, and this role continues to develop and change as technology advances and improves the techniques available for investigating crimes. Criminalistics is a broad field that incorporates the use of the scientific method in the processing of evidence and the investigation of crimes.
The practitioners of criminalistics, known as criminalists, work in many different settings and in a variety of professions. Some work in crime labs as medical professionals, dentists (forensic odontologists), chemists, toxicologists, biologists, geneticists, physicists, geologists, or anthropologists, whereas others work as researchers in university settings. Generally, criminalists have some specialized training in science as it is applied to the recognition, collection, analysis, and preservation of physical evidence from crime scenes. Criminalists may also be found in courtrooms as expert witnesses, providing testimony to help juries understand the science behind particular findings concerning evidence.
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Work of Criminalists and Criminologists (Forensic Science)
The discipline of criminalistics is often confused with the discipline of criminology, but the two differ in several ways. Although both criminalists and criminologists seek to understand the patterns and truth behind criminal activities, they use different approaches and ultimately have different goals. Criminalists seek to examine evidence in order to detect class and individual characteristics. The ultimate goal of a criminalist is to link three things: a victim, a crime scene, and an offender. The physical evidence that may be found at a crime scene may be invisible to the naked eye, such as fingerprints; it may be minute trace evidence, such as fibers from the clothing or the environment of the offender; or it may be as obvious as a body and a pool of blood. The job of the criminalist is to uncover the story that the evidence has to tell.
The investigative tasks in which criminalists are involved are widely varied. For example, a criminalist in a crime lab may examine the chemistry of inks in a threatening letter to identify the types of materials used in an effort to determine the origin of the letter. Another criminalist may apply techniques of forensic chemistry to understand the use of drugs in a homicide investigation. Yet another may examine fragments of a broken taillight from a hit-and-run accident, with the goal of identifying class characteristics that can be used to identify the type of...
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Further Reading (Forensic Science)
Barnett, Peter D. Ethics in Forensic Science: Professional Standards for the Practice of Criminalistics. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2001. Examines various ethical scenarios in light of the codes of ethics of the most prominent professional organizations for criminalists in the United States.
Eckert, William G., ed. Introduction to Forensic Sciences. 2d ed. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 1997. Textbook intended for students considering careers in the forensic sciences includes discussion of all aspects of criminalistics.
Fisher, Barry A. J. Techniques of Crime Scene Investigation. 7th ed. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2004. Comprehensive work provides an overview of the uses of the forensic sciences, particularly in criminal investigations.
Gaensslen, R. E., Howard A. Harris, and Henry C. Lee. Introduction to forensic Science and Criminalistics. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Covers the types of forensic science techniques used in crime laboratories as well as those employed by private examiners in civil cases. Discusses various crime scene procedures and analyses.
Girard, James E. Criminalistics: Forensic Science and Crime. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones & Bartlett, 2008. Examines the procedures that criminalists undertake at crime scenes and in laboratories. Explains scientific concepts clearly for readers with no background in chemistry or biology.
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Criminalistics (World of Forensic Science)
Criminalistics is one subdivision of forensic sciences. The terms criminalistics and forensic sciences are often confused and used interchangeably. Forensic sciences encompass a variety of scientific disciplines such as medicine, toxicology, anthropology, entomology, engineering, odontology, and of course, criminalistics. It is very difficult to provide an exact definition of criminalistics, or the extent of its application, as it varies from one location or country to another. However, the American Board of Criminalistics defines criminalistics as "that profession and scientific discipline directed to the recognition, identification, individualization, and evaluation of physical evidence by application of the physical and natural sciences to law-sciences matters." The California Association of Criminalistics provides a slightly different definition: "that professional occupation concerned with the scientific analysis and examination of physical evidence, its interpretation, and its presentation in court." These definitions are very similar to the ones used for forensic sciences, as both disciplines have as a goal to provide scientific analysis of evidence for the legal system.
It is also challenging to define a clear origin of criminalistics. The term comes from the German word Kriminalistik, invented by Austrian criminalist Hans Gross (1847915). While the field of criminalistics started long before Gross' time, the first serious and well-documented applications of scientific principles to a legal purpose, started in the middle of the nineteenth century. The famous novel hero Sherlock Holmes, invented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was probably the first fictional founder of criminalistics. The real recognition of criminalistics as a science by itself can be attributed to Hans Gross who published his book Handbuch fur Untersuchungsrichter als System der Kriminalistik in 1899. The development of anthropometry (the study of human physical dimensions) by French anthropologist Alphonse Bertillon (1853914) and of fingerprint analysis in the same period by Scottish scientist Henry Faulds (1843930), English scientist Francis Galton (1822911), and English Commissioner Sir Edward Henry (1850931), also contributed to the reinforcement of criminalistics. The progress made in forensic photography by Swiss criminalist Rodolphe-Archibald Reiss (1875929) was also a major contribution to the world of criminalistics. Finally, the beginning of the era of modern criminalistics is attributed to French criminalist Edmond Locard (1877966) and some of his pupils such as Swedish criminalist Harry Söderman (1902956). In the United States, the work of American criminalist Paul Kirk (1902970) reinforced the predominant position of criminalistics in forensic sciences.
As an integral part of the forensic sciences, criminalistics encompasses the broadest variety of disciplines. These commonly include the examinations of toolmarks, firearms, fingerprints, shoeprints, tire tracks, soil, fibers, glass, paint, serial numbers, light bulbs, drugs of abuse, questioned documents, fire and explosion, biological fluids, and last but not least, crime scenes. Criminalistics also typically includes physical evidence that is not directly studied by another field of forensic sciences. The main goal of criminalistics is to apply the principles of sciences to the examination of evidence in order to help the justice system determine that a crime has been committed, to identify its victim(s) and perpetrators, and finally, determine the modus operandi, or method of operation. Criminalistics uses other scientific disciplines to examine physical evidence. Among these are chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics. People performing criminalistics are referred to as criminalists.
Crime scene investigation consists of the detailed examination of a crime scene, and detection, recognition, and collection of pertinent evidence, as well as permanent documentation of the scene. Fingerprint examination consists of detection and revelation of fingerprints from different surfaces and comparison with other fingerprints, such as those provided by a suspect, in order to establish a link. Toolmarks, shoeprints, and tire tracks examination consists of recording and observing impressions in order to establish links with a potential tool, shoe, or tire. Drug analysis consists of the identification and quantification of a drug of abuse. The examination of biological fluids, also referred to as forensic serology, consists in the detection, recognition, and collection of body fluids and their subsequent analyses in order to identify the person from whom they originate. Trace evidence encompasses a large variety of minute pieces of evidence such as fibers, glass, soil, and paints. Traces are examined and compared to potential sources of origin in order to identify their origin. Questioned documents consist of the examination of documents to determine their authenticity or to identify forgery or counterfeiting, and of handwriting and signature analysis to identify the person who wrote them. The examination of serial numbers consists of the determination of their authenticity and the restoration of the ones that have been erased. The study of light bulbs consists of determining if they were on or off at time of their breakage. This is particularly helpful in road accident investigation.
SEE ALSO American Academy of Forensic Sciences; Analytical instrumentation; Animal evidence; Anthropology; Anthropometry; Artificial fibers; Autopsy; Ballistic fingerprints; Bite analysis; Bloodstain evidence; Casting; CODIS: Combined DNA Index System; Crime scene investigation; Crime scene reconstruction; Death, cause of; Decomposition; DNA fingerprint; Entomology; Evidence; Exhumation; Fingerprint; Hair analysis; Impression evidence; Locard's exchange principle; Pathology; Quality control of forensic evidence; Trace evidence.