Principles of forensic investigation


This title is in two distinct parts which stem from the learning outcomes (LOs)

LO1 says: demonstrate an understanding of the fundamental principles of forensic investigation and [their] place in modern criminal investigations

Key themes you should consider are the 2 fundamental principles: Locard and uniqueness. See lecture 2.

Locard’s principle states that every contact leaves a trace but is it true that ‘every’ contact leaves a trace, or is this an assumption? You should not merely describe the principle; you should be more critical. Consider if the principle is actually true and whether or not there are any opposing arguments, particularly based on inductive reasoning.

Most forensic science books (and the Blackstone’s series regarding investigation and police training) will be useful sources of material for the principle, but documents like the ACPO Murder Investigation Manual may also be useful. Be cautious of websites, especially Wikipedia and vanity forensic sites. Do NOT use the CSI TV websites.

Your second principle, as advised by lecture 2, is that all things are unique BUT this is not all, because the principle also considers the idea of individualisation. This is the idea that we can individualise a fingerprint (show that it was made by a specific finger) and so on for tools, bullets, shoe marks etc. Be critical: can this be proven? This is sometimes referred to as ‘the uniqueness fallacy’ because it is based upon inductive reasoning. You could use a couple of brief cases as examples or focus on things like fingerprints, DNA and so on.

LO2 says: describe the roles of a range of police staff and forensic scientists

This section can be more descriptive because there is not much of an argument to develop. People do jobs and those jobs are broadly similar whether they are in the US or UK (or anywhere else). The trick is to apply the roles to the fundamental principles. CSI’s record and collect the evidence BECAUSE of Locard’s theory and scientists analyse evidence BECAUSE it is presumed to be unique. You do not have to do this part of the essay as a new section: you can include the roles throughout the text if you wish, as long as it makes sense.

Key themes you should consider are: that the CSI is not some mindless drone who just collects evidence. There must be some thinking on his or her part (otherwise police stores would be full of evidence). According to Henry Lee the modern CSI recognises that objects may be evidence, so there is academic material behind this process. Note that, while Lee is American, his ideas on models deal with all CSIs worldwide. Importantly, the material in Lee’s Handbook was written by Marilyn T Miller: you can find her material in other books and, oddly, there was a copy of a version of one of her chapters on the internet but it has been taken down. Fraser (see lecture 1) discusses the modernisation of scientific support into forensic investigation: the development of forensic investigation means that CSIs actually think about what they are doing, rather than just grabbing anything that looks like evidence.

Fraser and Williams’ book the Handbook of Forensic Science [online through the library] discusses roles in the chapter on fires; Sutton and Trueman talk frequently about roles in Crime Scene Management – scene specific methods; Dutelle covers it in Crime Scene Investigation. In fact: nearly everybody does! There is no harm in using American books BUT make sure you check the British texts because our CSIs may do a slightly different job.

So: how to construct this apparently massive essay?

Read the above and start with a handwritten PLAN, add to it as information becomes available through lectures and through reading. Avoid convincing yourself that you should just start writing because your essay could end up as a jumble of information.

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