By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
Forensics are when normal scientific principals are utilized for courtroom purposes – normally in a criminal context. The applications can be fairly broad as far as scientific (and even some non-scientific) disciplines are concerned.
Some Science is Purely for the Courtroom
A textbook example are certain sciences where the science itself is almost solely geared at solving crime. An example could be blood spatter. There might be a different application of the science of blood spatter than criminal law – but if there is I don’t know it. Bite marks would be another example of a discipline which is virtually entirely for the purposes of criminal cases (forensic odontology) and there has been tons of criticism of bite mark evidence.
Some Science Can Either be Forensic or Not
Other examples require the injection of legal or investigative principals into the science. Examples there could be forensic pathology, toxicology, or psychology.
Pathology is essentially the study of tissue as it relates to disease. Forensic pathology takes it one step further often to either determine causes of death or in other cases – causes of bruising for assault cases.
Toxicology is the study of toxins and poisons and their effect on the body. Forensic toxicology, then, applies to specific legal principals such as the ability to drive, a person’s level of impairment, or perhaps a foreign substance which caused a person to die in a homicide case.
Forensic psychology is a unique practice where a psychologist applies mental health principals and diagnoses and applies them to individuals either to reconstruct someone’s thought process during a potential criminal episode, their overall psychological profile, or for mitigation purposes.
“Forensic” Disciplines We Might Not Think About Much
Other examples of forensics which are disciplines and areas of expertise we don’t associate with medicine can be:
- forensic computer exams
- forensic accounting
- forensic engineering
Instances Where the Term “Forensic” is Potentially Misused
Police and children’s advocacy centers utilize what they call a “Forensic Interview” of a child in sexual or physical abuse cases. It’s basically an open-ended interview of a child where they are asked to describe physical or sexual abuse in a non-leading fashion. The psychological or scientific underpinnings or basis for the technique has never been made clear to me – at least not in the courtroom by any of the practitioners. But it makes the interview seem official or important to the jury – which is why they label it that way, I’m sure.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is board certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.