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Howdunit Forensics

Howdunit Forensics

by D.P. Lyle

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Overview

Just because you don't have all the tools and training of a full-time medical examiner doesn't mean you can't learn your way around a crime scene.

In Forensics, award-winning author and TV show consultant D.P. Lyle, M.D., takes each area of forensics—from fingerprint analysis to crime scene reconstruction—and discusses its development, how the science works, how it helps in crime solving, and how you as a writer might use this technique in crafting your plot. This comprehensive reference guide includes:

  •Real-life case files and the role forensic evidence played in solving the crimes
  •A breakdown of the forensics system from its history and organization to standard evidence classification and collection methods
  •Detailed information on what a dead body can reveal—including the cause, mechanism, and manner of death
  •The actual steps taken to preserve a crime scene and the evidence that can be gathered there, such as bloodstains, documents, fingerprints, tire impressions, and more
Forensics is the ultimate resource for learning how to accurately imbue your stories with authentic details of untimely demises.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781582974743
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/04/2008
Series: Howdunit
Pages: 448
Product dimensions: 7.94(w) x 5.94(h) x 1.31(d)

About the Author

D. P. Lyle, MD is the Macavity Award winning and Edgar Award nominated author of the nonfiction books Murder and Mayhem: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers and Forensics for Dummies. His published fiction includes the thrillers Devil's Playground and Double Blind. He has worked as a story and technical consultant with many published authors and with the writers and producers of several popular television shows, including Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Monk, Medium and House.
www.dplylemd.com

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

FORENSIC SCIENCE: THE HISTORY AND ORGANIZATION

What is forensic science? Where did it originate? What does the term forensic mean in the first place?

The short definition of forensic is "of the law." The longer one is "relating to the use of science in the investigation of criminal activity and the analysis and presentation of evidence before the court." Thus, forensic science is the interface of science and the law. Medico-legal, a term often substituted for forensic, clearly indicates this marriage between law and medical science.

The word forensic derives from the Latin word forum. In ancient Rome, the forum was the community meeting place within the city or town. It served as an area where merchants, politicians, scholars, and the public could mingle and discuss issues of common interest, and also as the place where justice was meted out in public trials. Over the centuries, the term forum evolved into forensics.

Today, forensic is applied to anything that relates to law, and forensic science is the application of scientific disciplines to the law. It is important to note that it differs from the term clinical, which means "related to a medical clinic."

For example, clinical toxicology is the analysis of medications and drugs in the care of medical patients. Is the level of a drug such as digitalis within a heart patient's bloodstream at the proper level to achieve the desired effect? Are the person's symptoms due to an excess of a particular drug? The clinical toxicologist is concerned with patient care and treatment.

On the other hand, forensic toxicology is the use of the principles and testing procedures of medical toxicology (the study or drugs and poisons) to help resolve legal issues. Did the victim die from a poison or a drug overdose? Was the erratic driver intoxicated? Was a suspect's aberrant behavior due to drug usage? Forensic toxicology helps answer these questions.

A forensics (crime) lab is quite different from a medical (clinical) lab. The latter deals with the living. Testing within the clinical or hospital lab is directed toward aiding the diagnosis and treatment of ill patients. A forensics lab is geared toward evidence testing in the hope of establishing a link between a suspect and a crime.

Another example is the difference between a clinical (hospital) pathologist and a forensic pathologist, who sits at the apex of the forensics investigative system. Just as with labs, the duties of a forensic pathologist and a clinical pathologist vary greatly. A clinical pathologist is concerned with helping other physicians treat the ill. In this regard, he oversees the clinical lab, interprets lab tests, reviews biopsy and surgically removed tissues, and performs medical autopsies. A medical autopsy is designed to determine why someone died and to discover what complicating disease processes may have been present.

The forensic pathologist is concerned with criminal harm and death. He may oversee the crime lab (not always, since more often than not, the crime lab falls under the wing of the police or sheriff's department), interpret forensic tests, and perform forensic autopsies. A forensic autopsy is also designed to explain why someone died or was injured; however, the focus is to determine if either resulted from a criminal act.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF FORENSIC SCIENCE

No one knows for sure when science was first used to help solve criminal cases, but many feel that the origins of forensic science can be dated to Chinese investigator Sung Tz'u (1186–1249), who published the first text on forensic science in 1235. It carried the rather poetic title Hsi Yuan Lu, or The Washing Away of Wrongs.

The field of forensic science evolved in fits and spurts over the centuries that followed. Some techniques developed early and progressed rapidly, others lagged behind, and still others are truly modern. No forensic technique simply jumped into existence; it followed its own unique evolutionary process.

Modern forensic science rests on a foundation of centuries of scientific discovery. Our knowledge of physical and biological principles had to evolve and expand before it could be applied to the world of forensics. DNA testing could not become an accepted procedure until we knew it existed and understood how it worked. Fingerprints could not be used for identification until we discovered their existence and uniqueness.

Before a technique finds its way into the forensics lab, it must be thoroughly tested and refined by the scientific community. New techniques are sure to face legal challenges, so the scientific community must find them acceptable. Virtually every forensic science technique, including procedures in firearms examination, toxicology, and serology (the study of blood and body fluids), has followed a similar path.

In 1901, Karl Landsteiner (1868–1943) discovered that human blood could be grouped, and he devised the ABO blood group system that we still use today. In 1915, Leone Lattes (1887–1954) used Landsteiner's discovery to develop a simple method for determining the ABO blood group of a dried bloodstain and immediately began to apply his test in criminal investigations. As we will see in Chapter Nine, ABO typing is currently used to identify suspects and exonerate the innocent as well as in paternity testing and crime scene reconstruction.

The history of forensic science is replete with similar examples. Early in the twentieth century, Calvin Goddard (1891–1955) perfected a system for comparing bullets under a comparison microscope in order to determine if they came from the same weapon. This technique remains the mainstay of current firearms examination. Albert Osborn (1858–1946) laid down the principles of document examination in his book Questioned Documents (1910). Many of these are still used by modern document examiners.

THE FIRST FORENSIC SCIENTISTS

Interestingly, the first forensic scientists came not from the world of science but from the world of fiction. Not only does art imitate life, but also life imitates art.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes frequently uses the sciences of fingerprinting, document examination, and blood analysis to solve the crimes presented to him. In fact, in the very first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet (1887), Holmes develops a chemical to determine whether a stain was blood. Since this technique had not been previously used in a reallife criminal investigation, Holmes was definitely ahead of his time.

In Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi (1883), a thumbprint is used to identify a murderer, and in Twain's The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1893–1894), a fingerprint pops up in a court trial. These examples pre-dated the groundbreaking work on fingerprints by Sir Francis Galton (1822–1911) in the 1890s, for which he received knighthood.

Many believe that the first real-life forensic scientist was Hans Gross (1847–1915). His reasoned and methodic approach to criminal investigation and the mind of not only criminals, but also their pursuers, laid the foundation for modern criminology.

In 1893, he published the first treatise on the use of scientific knowledge and procedures in criminal investigations. His classic 1898 work Criminal Psychology laid out the principles of criminal behavior and how evidence should be evaluated and used in criminal proceedings. Interestingly, he also used the more modern term criminalist to refer to those involved in criminal investigation.

Others soon followed in Gross's footsteps, most notably Edmund Locard (1877–1966), a police officer and professor in Lyon, France. In the early 1900s, he voiced an extremely important observation that became known as Locard's Exchange Principle, which remains the cornerstone of modern forensic investigation.

THE LOCARD EXCHANGE PRINCIPLE

Wherever he steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as a silent witness against him. Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibers from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen he deposits or collects.

All of these and more, bear mute witness against him. This is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused by the excitement of the moment. It is not absent because human witnesses are. It is factual evidence. Physical evidence cannot be wrong, it cannot perjure itself, it cannot be wholly absent. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it, can diminish its value.

— Edmund Locard

An understanding of the Locard Exchange Principle is critical to grasping the true workings of forensic science. As so elegantly stated by Professor Locard, the basic premise is that whenever a person comes into contact with another person, object, or place, an exchange of materials takes place. Blood, fibers, hair, or any other substance is either left behind or picked up and carried away by the individual. If you own a pet, this exchange of materials is well known to you. Look at your clothes and you'll likely see cat or dog hair clinging to the fabric. You may also find that you have transferred these hairs to your car, your office, and any other place you frequent.

The placing of a suspect at the scene of a crime is one of the basic functions of forensic science. The analysis of evidence is to create an association or link between the perpetrator and the crime. In some cases, the mere fact that the suspect was at the scene is an indication of guilt. A fingerprint on the faceplate of a cracked bank vault, semen obtained from a rape victim, or paint from the fender of a car involved in a hit-and-run would place the suspect at a scene where he perhaps had no "innocent" reason to be.

This linkage of evidence is the heart and soul of forensic science. It proves that a person has come into contact with another person, place, or object. Or perhaps it proves that two objects or substances share a common source. For example, if a chip of car paint found in the clothing of a child victim of a hit-and-run is matched to a particular car, this match shows that the car was the source of the paint. Or if blood found at a crime scene matches the DNA profile of blood obtained from a suspect, it proves the blood shared a common source, namely the suspect. Does this make either suspect guilty? Not necessarily. That determination is made in a court of law. The linkage of the evidence simply puts the suspect at the scene. It is up to the police and prosecutors to prove that this linkage is proof of guilt. Or conversely, for the suspect and his attorney to offer an innocent reason for the evidence to be found where it was.

Let's look at another example. A woman is found raped and murdered in her home. DNA from semen found at the scene is matched to the man who lives next door. Doesn't look good for him. But, what if the two were having a clandestine affair? What if he had visited her an hour or so before her murder? Things aren't as clear, are they? The one thing he can't deny is that it was his DNA that was found at the scene. But, he may have another reason for it to be there. So, forensic science can link him to the scene but it cannot always reveal why he was there and what transpired while he was there.

GENERAL ORGANIZATION OF FORENSIC SCIENCE

This book will not deal with the techniques of law enforcement and investigation but rather will look into the functions of the criminalists, the crime lab, and the medical examiner. This is still a huge undertaking, and as we go along you will see that the domain of forensic science involves many scientific disciplines. It is organized in many different ways.

As I said earlier, the development of modern forensic science paralleled advances in science, particularly the physical and biological sciences. The invention of the microscope, the development of photography, the understanding of the physics of ballistic trajectories, and the discovery of blood typing and DNA analysis are examples of such advances. Before these scientific principles and procedures were applied to criminal investigations, they underwent many years of refinement. Some moved quickly, others at a snail's pace, so the various areas of science entered the forensics arena in a more or less haphazard fashion.

It should come as no surprise that the organization of these various techniques into a coherent field of study was neither smooth nor linear, and the use of them in criminal investigation varied greatly from country to country and even from area to area within the United States. This is still true today. Some jurisdictions have complete and sophisticated crime labs, while others are rudimentary by comparison.

For the fiction writer, this is a gold mine of opportunity. The popular horror writer John Saul once said that he set his stories in small towns "because the cops are stupid." What he meant is that if your story is in a rural area, the local police are neither equipped for nor experienced in the handling of major crimes. In a city like Los Angeles, the police, the crime lab, and the coroner's office employs hundreds, even thousands, of people and have a budget, though still woefully inadequate, in the millions. A small town in the rural South may have the police chief, a single deputy, and the local undertaker as the sum total of their forensic team. Sort of like Mayberry with Andy and Barney and Floyd the barber as the coroner. Rich soil for a fiction writer.

Regardless of the level of sophistication in a given jurisdiction, modern forensics integrates the varied scientific disciplines in an effort to solve crimes. This requires extensive coordination among law enforcement, the crime scene technicians, the crime lab, and the medical examiner.

Crime labs have been around for many decades. August Vollmer (1876– 1955) used forensics as a police chief in Berkeley, California, and in 1923 he established the first forensic laboratory in the United States when he was chief in Los Angeles. The famous 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre (see Chapter Sixteen: Firearms Examination) prompted two Chicago businessmen to help establish the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory (SCDL), the first independent crime lab, at Northwestern University. In 1932, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) established a national forensics laboratory, that offered services to law enforcement across the country. It served as the model for all future state and local labs. Now many states have networks of regional and local labs that support law enforcement at all levels.

The scientific services offered by the modern crime lab and medical examiner's office are varied and complex. In reality, the number of services supplied by a particular laboratory depends on its size and budget. State and regional labs may provide a wide array of services while local labs may only provide basic testing. The smaller labs typically outsource more sophisticated testing to the larger regional labs. In addition, the FBI's National Crime Lab offers services to law enforcement throughout the country. Not only does the FBI lab perform virtually every type of test, it possesses or has access to databases on everything from fingerprints to tire track impressions to postage stamps.

At the more local level, larger labs may have separate departments for each discipline, while smaller labs tend to combine services. For example, a large state lab may have separate firearms, tool marks, serology (blood examination), and DNA units, while a local lab may combine firearms with tool marks and DNA with serology. In very small labs, a single technician may do all the work. Obviously, in this circumstance, a great deal of the work must be sent to larger reference labs.

You've no doubt heard of CSI. It stands for Crime Scene Investigation. Larger crime labs may have a special Crime Scene Investigation Unit (CSIU), which consists of individuals trained in evidence recognition, collection, and preservation. They are also skilled in performing many of the "field tests" and screening tests that must be done at a crime scene. Many of these technicians also perform laboratory testing once the crime scene samples are returned to the lab. Smaller jurisdictions do not have a specialized CSIU so the collection of evidence falls to the local police or sheriff.

Two other terms warrant attention because they can create confusion. A criminalist is a forensic scientist. Criminalistics is synonymous with forensic science. Using either of these terms is correct. Because of the wide range and sophistication of the many scientific disciplines represented in the modern crime lab, many criminalists specialize in a single area of forensic science. They may work in toxicology (drugs and poisons), serology (blood), fingerprint analysis, chemistry, firearms and ballistics, or one of the many other service areas of the crime lab.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Forensics"
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Copyright © 2008 D.P. Lyle.
Excerpted by permission of F+W Media, Inc..
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Table of Contents

FOREWORD BY MATT WITTEN,
FOREWORD BY LEE GOLDBERG,
INTRODUCTION,
PART I: THE FORENSICS SYSTEM,
CHAPTER 1: FORENSIC SCIENCE: THE HISTORY AND ORGANIZATION,
CHAPTER 2: EVIDENCE: THE HEART AND SOUL OF FORENSICS,
PART II: THE CORONER AND THE BODY,
CHAPTER 3: THE AUTOPSY: A LOOK INSIDE THE BODY,
CHAPTER 4: IDENTIFYING THE BODY: WHO IS THE VICTIM?,
CHAPTER 5: TIME OF DEATH: A CRITICAL PART OF THE TIMELINE,
CHAPTER 6: CAUSE, MECHANISM, AND MANNER OF DEATH: HOW DID THE VICTIM DIE?,
CHAPTER 7: BODILY HARM: IDENTIFYING WOUNDS,
CHAPTER 8: ASPHYXIA: DEPRIVING THE BODY OF OXYGEN,
CHAPTER 9: SEROLOGY: BLOOD AND OTHER BODY FLUIDS,
CHAPTER 10: DNA: YOUR PERSONAL CODE,
CHAPTER 11: TOXICOLOGY: DRUGS, POISONS, AND TOXINS,
PART III: THE CRIME SCENE AND THE CRIME LAB,
CHAPTER 12: FINGERPRINTS: A HANDY IDENTIFICATION TOOL,
CHAPTER 13: BLOODSTAINS: PATTERNS TELL THE STORY,
CHAPTER 14: IMPRESSIONS: SHOES, TIRES, TOOLS, AND FABRICS,
CHAPTER 15: TRACE EVIDENCE: SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF,
CHAPTER 16: FIREARMS EXAMINATION: MORE THAN GUNS AND AMMUNITION,
CHAPTER 17: ARSON INVESTIGATION: FIRES AND EXPLOSIONS,
CHAPTER 18: QUESTIONED DOCUMENTS: HANDWRITING AND FORGERY EXAMINATION,
CHAPTER 19: CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY: ASSESSING THE MIND,
AFTERWORD,
APPENDIX: FORENSIC SCIENCE TOOLS,

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