What are the common misconceptions about forensic science? Like most people, you think you know a lot about forensic science and solving crimes thanks to binge-watching reruns of shows like CSI, NCIS, Law & Order, and Bones.
Try again. While you may have learned a thing or two that may come in handy the next time (we hope) you decide to commit a crime, you should know that these TV series grossly misrepresent the forensics profession.
Before diving into a career in forensic science, make sure you grasp the common misconceptions about forensic science.
Bloodstain Pattern Analysis
First on our list of common misconceptions about forensic science is the bloodstain pattern analysis.
Numerous examples in movies and television show that the murder technique is deduced by analyzing the bloodstain pattern left behind. The trouble is that even professionals frequently err. In addition, it’s a lot more challenging than the media makes it seem. In actuality, there is a wide range of hemorrhage amounts and patterns.
The blood spilled is usually less than expected, and it seems to occur randomly. Although specialists sometimes can discern what happened, this method is never completely dependable and has been dubbed “junk science” by skeptics.
In reality, bloodstain pattern analysis is very subjective and prone to inaccuracy because it does not adhere to standard scientific practices.
You had the best hope they have more information than only your blood type and pattern if you ever end up a murder victim. As you’ll see, many commonly used approaches have problems.
Another common misconception about forensic science is the crime rates in the United States. Although many Americans don’t believe it, crime rates in the United States are actually around historic lows.
Despite widespread belief to the contrary, crime rates are not rising. According to the numbers, crime rates are far lower than they were decades ago.
The murder rate, in particular, has decreased. The truth is that it increased a little in 2016 but has been steadily declining.
The reasons for the recent increase in killings remain mostly unknown, although progress is being made in addressing the underlying causes. Still, the homicide rate in the United States is much greater than in most developed nations.
The process of hair analysis entails looking at a sample of a person’s hair under a microscope and comparing it to other samples taken from the crime scene.
Another faulty and unreliable strategy, unfortunately. Inaccurate hair analysis led to the wrongful imprisonment of 74 persons between 1989 and 2016. Since then, several have criticized this strategy as being defective and untrustworthy. It contradicts fundamental scientific principles and is plagued by a high rate of inaccuracy and subjectivity, just like the other methods on this list.
Since scientists lack a database of hair samples as they do with fingerprints, they can’t precisely determine the likelihood of a hair having a given trait. In light of this and the above, researchers and judges have taken a critical attitude toward this approach, and I think they are correct.
DNA testing is a reliable and precise technique, but it is on our list of common misconceptions about forensic science.
Not everything is as it seems. Perhaps you’re wondering, “What are the major issues with DNA testing?” The reason is straightforward: passing the time and other things can diminish precision.
Crime shows make it sound as though all they have to do is collect a DNA sample and wait a few hours for the findings. Issued, right? Not nearly if we’re talking about the real world, though. Due to the volume of work and quality assurance checks required by DNA testing facilities, results might often take months to come in.
Even though the results are often worthwhile, the process typically takes two to six months. Is it going to be very helpful even then? DNA testing, like fingerprint analysis, can be highly precise in the correct circumstances; nevertheless, crime scene samples are rarely flawless. Despite extensive examination, they may prove useless or mislead investigators.
Forensic Scientists Specialize in Multiple Fields
As was previously said, forensics encompasses any scientific discipline applied to the law, and numerous television shows feature a small group of CSIs tasked with examining the evidence.
In practice, however, most scientists focus on just one or two areas of study. Forensic toxicologists, for example, analyze samples for the presence of drugs and other poisons.
A forensic toxicologist’s expertise is not required to examine a corpse’s skeletal remains.
They Interrogate Suspects And Make Arrests
On TV, CSI teams always seem to be in charge at a crime scene, conducting interviews with suspects before dragging them away in handcuffs. Forensic analysts spend most of their time in the lab, only venturing to collect evidence or analyze a crime scene periodically.
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The police are in charge of all questioning and arrests. Some CSI agents have sworn police officers and can do dual duties. However, this is much less common than it appears on television.
No Case Cannot Be Solved By DNA Evidence.
In practically every episode of any CSI series, you’ll notice this. After collecting DNA evidence, the crew inputs the data into computer software, and within minutes, a suspect and his full criminal history and present address appear. With such miraculous tools at our disposal, how can any mysteries be left unanswered? Although DNA evidence can be very helpful for law enforcement and defense attorneys, it is not infallible and cannot ensure a case will be solved.
CODIS is a legitimate U.S. DNA profile archive many shows use to match their DNA. While there has been a substantial increase in the number of DNA profiles stored in CODIS over the past decade, there are still fewer than 9 million offender profiles in the system as of 2010.
It’s hardly surprising that not every DNA sample collected corresponds to a person on file, given that there are around 313 million people in the United States.
Forensic Analysts Never Make Mistakes
As forensics shows an increase in the media, the public’s understanding of what they believe to be the actual justice system grows. It’s hardly surprising that the prosecution would have mountains of incontrovertible forensic evidence to present to the jury when trying to prove a suspect’s guilt.
The so-called “CSI Effect” has a tangible impact on actual court cases. When juries are not presented with a show and concrete evidence, similar to what they see on television, they typically rule that the prosecution’s case is weak.
Another side of the CSI Effect is the false belief in the infallibility of forensic analysts. Despite the repeated demonstration of the fallibility of many tests, juries continue to trust the conclusions of these analysts’ investigations.
Criminals Always Make Mistakes
The “CSI Effect” also has the unintended consequence of educating criminals about the work of crime scene investigators.
There has been an increase in the number of murderers and rapists aware of the precautions they can take to conceal their DNA, such as disposing of bodies by fire or bleach and washing blood out of their vehicles.
Though this doesn’t rule out the possibility of mistakes in other areas or friends turning them in, it does make it more difficult for law enforcement to collect evidence directly attributable to a specific criminal act.
Since juries are less likely to convict without technological evidence, it’s easy to see how forensics programs could be wreaking havoc on law enforcement and prosecution.
These forensics labs have state-of-the-art technology and are stocked with all the tools they could need
In true crime shows, it often seems like the cops have their forensics lab. Although law enforcement, pathologists, and analysts may all be located in the same facility, forensics laboratories frequently service hundreds of local police departments.
For instance, only one lab serves the entire state of New Hampshire. These labs are not uncommon; they also lack the luxury, spaciousness, and abundance of equipment seen on television.
Unfortunately, not every piece of equipment used in laboratories across the country is available in every given lab due to budget cuts and manpower shortages.