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Description And Legislative Context Of Forensic Science

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In a crime scene, not only are there police forces and rescue workers at work, but there are also forensic scientists present to collect evidences and samples during the investigation. Forensic science is defined to be using scientific methods and techniques to investigate a crime scene. The term ‘forensic’ means the debate or discussion to be used in a Court of Law for legal practices. According to New York State Police, the usage of this field of science can be dated back all the way to the 700s, where the Chinese used the uniqueness of every individual’s fingerprint to identify documents and clay monuments.

Forensic science has an important role in the criminal justice world, where it produces solid, scientific-based evidence. It can be explained simply as the application of science to law. It combines physics, chemistry, biology, computer science and engineering to evaluate and identify physical evidence. According to National Institute of Justice (2018), it helps detectives and investigators to visualize how blood splatter patterns happen, trace the components and source of evidence, or identify unknown suspects.

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The evidence identification is typically split into a few units, such as physical science unit, biology unit, ballistics unit, document examination unit and photography unit. The physical science unit uses chemistry, physics and geology concepts to analyze samples like drugs, paint, explosives, glass, soils and so on. The biology unit examines biological evidence such as DNA, hairs, fibers, wood. Ballistics unit deals with firearms ID, bullets, cartridges, weapon shells, residue, the distance and angle of the shooter whereas the document examination unit inspects handwriting, ink and paper analysis, indented writings, erasures and other. Lastly, the photography unit analyses samples in terms of digital, x-ray, UV, and infrared imaging of the crime scenes.

There are some typical services that are provided in every professional forensic lab. Among them are physical evidence analysis, courtroom testimony and training for other agencies and officers. Some of the sub-services that some crime labs might provide are toxicology, fingerprint, polygraph (lie detector), voiceprint, and evidence collection- which is done by specially trained crime scene processors. There are many fields in forensic science, such as forensic pathology. This field is where the scientists find out more about sudden, unexplained deaths. There is also forensic anthropology (examination of human skeletal remains), forensic entomology (study of relationship between the insects to a crime scene), forensic psychiatry, forensic odontology (examining the teeth of victims when the body is in a state beyond recognition) and so on.

Forensic science uses scientific instruments to examine and identify the sample contents found in the investigation scene. The equipment the scientists use to test drugs are ultraviolent spectrophotometry, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry and others.

Legislative context

National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) states that there are five main pieces of laws that are related to forensic science. They are Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014, Convicted Offenders DNA Index System Support Act, DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000, National Forensic Science Improvement Act of 1999 and Paul Coverdell National Forensic Science Improvement Act of 2000. Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014 specifies the laws that are intended to improve, coordinate and expand federal research in this field of science. It directs the federal agencies participating in the initiative to enhance the foundation and application of forensic science by leading and assisting research conducted in the same direction with the unified federal research strategy. Furthermore, it has a motive to construct a better relationship between forensic science specialists and the research community as well as encouragement and promotion of education and trainings regarding forensic science.

Convicted Offenders DNA Index System Support Act is a law that drives the development of a plan to assist the States in carrying out deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) analyses of DNA samples collected from the criminals that were found guilty, motivated at decreasing the occurrence of backlog. This law too gives preferences in aid to the States to have a well-established program for DNA analysis of crime scene evidence when there are no suspects. Moreover, this act requires FBI directors to develop a strategy to efficiently reduce the accumulation of evidences from crime scenes while awaiting DNA analysis in forensic laboratory and include information on missing persons, including DNA obtained from relatives of the lost person.

DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000 is an act that pinpoints mostly on analysis of DNAs in forensic laboratory by scientists. When there are numerous DNA samples collected from suspects and there were no matches with the readily available convicted criminals, they will save and keep the samples for future purposes. This act manages the amount of samples to conduct and facilitate DNA analyses and ensures the quality of the DNA analyses carried out in a laboratory are up to standard. It requires the FBI Director to maintain and readily available to States a list of explanation on the quality assurance standard operating procedures and practices to guarantee the quality of a forensic laboratory.

National Forensic Sciences Improvement Act of 1999 includes the guideline of usage drugs in an analysis and a system that provides an improvement in a few sectors, comprises of quality, timeliness and credibility of forensic science skills for the purpose of justification of criminal. It involves a certification from the States that it has met with the specified requirements for a forensic science laboratory or laboratory system. Paul Coverdell National Forensic Sciences Improvement Act of 2000 is an improved act of National Forensic Science Improvement Act of 1999. In this act, it focuses more on the costing of the analysis. The sum used for the analysis must be in the range fixed to ensure there was no over expenditure. This act also emphases on the improvement of quality, credibility and timeliness of forensic science activity.

Other than that, according to Session Law 2011-19 (2011), the law of Forensic Science Act of 2011 was created. This law determines the quantity of required committees and members in the Forensic Science Advisory Board which then set at one State Crime Laboratory Director and 15 members appointed by the Attorney General. Moreover, minimum qualifications of forensic scientists were also fixed in Forensic Science Act of 2011 to ensure the reliability and trustworthiness of the DNA sample results obtained. All the forensic scientists involved must be an expert in their own particular field of study. For instance, forensic chemist and forensic biologist related to the analysis must be professional to minimize the amount of errors that might occur. Expenses incurred by the members during the performance of their duties as well as salaries will be given reasonably by those who it may concern. Names of the witnesses and volunteers for DNA samples shall not be disclosed during the court presentation. This is to prevent any physical or mental harm and pressure to the DNA sample provider.

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