Legal Eagle : Forensic science critical in fighting crime

August 21, 2017

There is an urgent need for regulation and massive upgrade of the forensic laboratory in light of the increase in violent crimes in Jamaica, especially murder. For too long, forensic science has been ignored as a critical tool to solve crimes in Jamaica. The most important function of scientific evidence is to convert suspicion into reasonable certainty of either guilt or innocence. In that regard, justice would be done. The guilty is convicted, and the innocent is acquitted.

For some crimes, the evidence of eyewitnesses is sufficient to lead to conviction. However, there are many situations where forensic evidence is necessary to support eyewitness evidence. Plus, there are those other situations where there are absolutely no eyewitnesses and the case now relies totally on forensic evidence, save for a confession.

Forensic science only means the science behind the evidence that is given in a criminal trial in court by an expert witnesses that is to say, the evidence of, say, a forensic pathologist who gives evidence about the cause of death or time of death; a scientist from the forensic laboratory who gives evidence about the cause or seat of a fire in a case of arson, or whether the substance found was cocaine; or even the evidence of a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer, a police officer, a fingerprint expert or any other persons used to give expert evidence in a criminal trial.

The first step is to ensure that the first responders are properly trained to protect the scene of the crime so that the 'Sherlock Holmes approach' of observation, forensic science and logical reasoning will have a chance to solve the crime. The scene of crime police officers and forensic scientists should be early on the crime scene to collect evidence required for analysis. Contact traces such as marks, scratches, physical fits, paint, glass and soil are important to the forensic scientists. Direct link could be the suspect's fingerprints on doors and widows, footprints, shoe prints, tyre marks on a driveway or near to the scene of the crime. Broken glass must be examined, smears might be on painted walls, and sometimes there might even be the need for soil test to determine the presence of chemicals.

 

GATHERING PHYSICAL EVIDENCE

 

The second step is the careful collection, labelling and documentation of samples from the crime scene. The physical evidence gathered must be preserved, stored and taken to a forensic laboratory for analysis. This process at the forensic laboratory is all about chemistry and physical sciences. The forensic chemists must analyse all contact traces, compare materials, identify poison, determine the presence of alcohol and other substance in the body, and identify material used in the commission of a crime, among other things. In addition, the process of separation is critical to the operation of a forensic laboratory.

The third aspect is for the forensic scientist to provide a statement to the prosecution touching and concerning the entire process, from collection of evidence to the analysis and findings. Thereafter, the forensic scientist must attend court and give evidence, and to have it explained in such a way so that the judge and/or jury will understand it so that the correct decision is given to cause justice to be done.

There is no doubt that the forensic laboratory plays an important role in criminal justice system in Jamaica. However, much is to be desired. For instance, the laws in Jamaica do not regulate the forensic laboratory, and there are no laws that require the forensic laboratory to slavishly follow any recognised standards used by any of the world-renowned police laboratories, such as the FBI.

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