Explaining the complexities of forensics in the courtroom

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POSTED: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 - 11:01am

UPDATED: Thursday, December 27, 2012 - 3:24pm

On the small screen, the crime is typically solved within the hour to everyone’s satisfaction - and it’s becoming a problem. Sadly, police chiefs now have to tell people – it’s not like it is on TV when they’re announcing their investigations and progress.

On TV, a combination of wily detective work, coupled to cutting-edge scientific methods, typically proved the undoing of the villain in most televised legal dramas. Science has dramatically altered the public’s perception of what constitutes definitive evidence in court trials. But perhaps of equal effect has been the 1-hour crime drama.

Known as the C.S.I. Effect, - really - this bias has made it more difficult for prosecutors to try their cases before jurors who expect definitive physical evidence. It has also put less of a premium on circumstantial evidence. It’s as if everyone’s suddenly decided to become forensic scientists.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first touched upon the public’s fascination with the use of available technology, and application of reason, to solve crimes. Sherlock Holmes threw down his systematic gauntlet, and brought reason, observation and scientific discovery to the table in the battle against literary and fictional criminals and scoundrels.

That gauntlet was picked up by actor Jack Klugman in the NBC series, Quincy M.E. At the beginning of each episode, he informed his audience, “Gentlemen, you are about to enter the most fascinating sphere of police work: the world of forensic medicine.” But, as everyone knows, the interest in science holding the key to solving crimes did not end with the cancelation of Quincy M.E. in 1983. 

New shows, with higher-tech toys and crime fighting solutions, stood ready to take its place. These new shows include: Dexter, C.S.I., Bones, Criminal Minds, and Cold Case Files. All of them continue to add to the panoply of high-tech crime shows for a new generation of television viewers. This new group of viewers, however, is vastly more technologically savvy than previous audiences. They generally embrace the use of technology regardless of their TV watching habits. This combination of facts makes for a technologically demanding jury pool.

Regardless, the witnesses with forensic science masters degree program backgrounds are the rock stars of the modern courtroom setting. Forensic graduates hold the information that jurors will expect to unlock the case and put away the guilty parties. Yet, jurors are disappointed when the evidence is not as clear cut as the depiction on television and that makes it harder to reach the guilty plea asked for by the prosecutor.

Specializing within the field of forensic science administration, professionals in the field are in the unique position to instruct law enforcement professionals in the proper use of scientific method and tools to successfully close a case, though it’s rarely a race. This specialized knowledge is available, through forensic science masters degree programs.

From the crime scene to the courtroom, forensic scientists play a critical role in applying the rational theories of science to the, sometimes, irrational actions of human passion.

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