Sunday, 30 April 2017

7 Reasons Forensic Science Should Concern You


                                         


The word “forensics” or “forensic science” may not mean anything to you but it should. You may have been familiar with the term “forensic evidence” after watching CSI (crime scene investigation) TV shows like Forensic Files, NCIS or Criminal Minds.
There is a stark difference between what CSI movie actors would want us to believe and that obtainable in real life. For instance, a crime scene investigator arrives
at a murder scene, closely observes the victim, makes a few notes, looks at the sky for a few moments and says “she died at 3.am John”. Really, just like that?
Many people have limited the applicability of forensics to the TV alone or simply enjoy the show and that’s where it ends. On the other hand, some people expect more from the Police when they compare how some real life cases are handled with what they see on CSI movies.

  It is also not uncommon to find individuals with little or no knowledge of forensics. This is irrespective of whether a person is a professor of Physics or a secondary school student whose best subject is Literature. There are hilarious situations where educated individuals and some law enforcement agents  mispronounce ‘forensics’ for ‘forestry’ even after repeating the word ‘forensics’ over and over. A lawyer has once asked a forensic student she met in a court what forensics meant! You could imagine the surprise on the face of this student. Unbelievable! Not to judge so quickly, it is evident that what you don’t learn you don’t know. Simple!
It is one thing to know that forensics is about fighting crime using science or arts but believing that forensics can personally affect you positively is another. Now, that is the problem. There is need for you to know that the application of forensics goes beyond what you see on TV or hear about calls for forensic investigations of monetary fraud or corruption and so on, though it is part of it. Forensics has a way of affecting us whether we care about it or not.
Then you ask, why should I bother about forensics? What has forensic science got to do with me? It has nothing to do with me personally, so why should forensic science concern me? Can it put food on my table? Does it add anything to my name? That is the essence of this article. So let's reason together and see why forensics should concern you. 

1.     Proving your innocence
Have you been wrongly accused of a crime or misconduct? If not you, what about someone you know? It is a painful thing to be accused of something you did not commit. It becomes worse when no one believes you and you have extremely limited options to prove your innocence. The situation deteriorates the more when you or someone you know or care about is faced with imprisonment.
 Statistical report in Nigeria showed that as at 2015, 72.52% of the overall prison inmates have not yet been sentenced. For how long will they remain in jail? What can be done to expedite action on their cases? Suppose some of them are released due to lack of evidence against them, what compensation awaits them for the time wasted in jail? How many people does the government compensate for time spent in jail without trial and later released for lack of evidence against them? What of those wrongly accused, convicted and have served the full term –and they were innocent?
Suppose you live in a country where the Justice system is not strong enough to provide services that specialize in recovering evidence that lead to the truth of your innocence, imagine what awaits you! Forensics is arguably the most viable tool that searches for clues, sheds light on the evidential trails and traces left when a crime or misconduct is committed thereby, unearthing the truth about a case, criminal or civil.
To lose your innocence is to lose your freedom. Then you lose your dignity. Then, other fundamental rights follow. You may lose your self in the process. At the very root of proving your innocence is forensic evidence. Incontrovertible evidence!
In the US on April 17, 2017, a man was exonerated from prison for wrongful conviction of killing his girlfriend. Recent DNA tests showed that he’s DNA did not match samples from the crime scene. He had spent 23 years in prison since 1995.

2.     Prison for the guilty
Up till now, crime experts do not believe there is no such thing as ‘perfect crime’. It is impossible to trace the perpetrators of a perfect crime –even if they are suspects! No evidence can be linked to the criminals involved in a perfect crime and they walk…heads up at the end. 
Is it possible to get away with a crime like murder? Yes. In movies, maybe. And yes again, if the resources necessary for investigate the case till the perpetrators are convicted. Except the state is unwilling or unable to fund the investigation that allows the use of every forensic technique relevant to the case. Except the criminal justice system is weak and allows manipulation to truncate Justice. It is impossible to get away with crime. 
Development in Forensic science technologies has shown that it is virtually impossible to escape justice no matter how long it takes. It is the reason cases  that have been closed (cold cases) due to lack of evidence are reopened and reexamined for forensic evidence with emerging scientific findings and the truth, unearthed. Many stories of reopened cold cases abound all over the world. A typical example of such was the case of a man who sexually assaulted 17-year old girl and stabbed her 29 times. He was caught and convicted 32 years later after his blood matched the DNA swab from the victim’s clothing.
There is nothing that hurts more than living without a clue of those responsible for the crime like murder of loved one. It worse when you know those responsible still walk free and probably smile at your face without you identifying them.  Those questions have to be answered! 
Statistics have shown that those who commit crimes and do not get caught have a tendency of repeating the crime against others, again and again. What if we dealing with a psychopath who feels no remorse for their actions and brag about it? One criminal in prison makes your community safer than it was. That is why we should begin to see forensics as the most promising tool for getting justice for ourselves or others. Search for forensic practitioners around you to seek counsel. A forensic expert is one who is trained to search a crime scene for clues, trails and traces that misses the eye of an average crime investigator and make intelligent analysis that could lead to anyone involved in a crime. The forensic evidence helps to prove your case beyond a reasonable doubt. If with the help of a forensic expert you tender evidence that cannot be disputed, how can the guilty ones walk free?

3.     Prevents future crimes against you and others
Prevention they say is better than cure. It is easier to prevent a catastrophe than trying to its consequence. Which is better? To apprehend a potential serial killer or to bring back to life the murder victim? To open up that you have been sexually assaulted by someone you know or to sympathize later with other victims? To keep vigilance against counterfeiting or to live with consequences of fake drugs? There are forensic techniques that can be applied to prevent the crimes like car hijacking, rape and smuggling of illegal drugs from happening. This is where forensic intelligence comes in to play. Forensic intelligence is a more holistic approach to crime that includes crime prevention, detection and investigation. Thus, it is a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to crime management.

The use of Geographic Information System (GIS) in crime analysis is one good example. The Philadelphia police department (PPD) in the US uses GIS to understand crime patterns, get statistics and trends on numerous criminal activities. It has helped them to know which crimes are prevalent at certain times of the year, crime hotspots and behavioral patterns of certain type of criminals. GIS has helped the PPD to know how many officers to allocate to a ‘hot zone’ and the required level of vigilance to keep over an area. That is what intelligence-led policing can do for you –shielding you from becoming a victim in the first place. 

Forensic intelligence when fully utilized can help to prevent future crimes and innocent people from becoming victims because of the preemptive measures taken. Forensic intelligence has the capacity to design and deploy counter violent extremism and counter-terrorism solutions which our society are in dare need of. Wouldn’t you like to live in a country where the law enforcement agencies are proactive and vigilant enough to predict the next criminal move or the next terrorist attack and take the appropriate steps to avert those attacks? Would you not feel safer knowing that there are experts and security officers working together to ensure your safety and that of your family? Forensics can make your community a safer place for you to live in.
A stitch in time saves nine.

4.     Provides career and Job opportunities for you
Are there job opportunities if you decide to become a forensic scientist? Can you pursue forensics as a career? Yes!  Forensics covers many sub fields and likewise the job variations. 
There is no aspect of forensics that is irrelevant. Forensics is simply applying any field of study whether it is in science, arts or social science to criminal or civil matters. Thus if you have a BSc in Linguistics, going for an MSc in Forensic Science would suffice to call you a forensic scientist or a forensic Linguist! A PhD in forensic science can clinch you the juicy positions in a crime lab or forensic institution. Places where forensic scientists have been found to be relevant are both privately and government owned crime labs that deal with illegal drugs, analysis that cover  DNA, fingerprinting, digital forensics, forensic toxicology and footwear impressions among others. These are highly specialized skills that require specialized trainings. The take home pay for forensic scientists in the employ of private or government institutions varies among countries and may depend on the forensic technique in high demand.
In a clime where the more prevalent crime is document fraud or forgery, one could expect that the demand for forensic handwriting experts and questioned documents analysts would be high, and likewise the pay.
Government agencies like immigration, customs, drug law enforcement, police and even the military require forensic scientists to run their crime labs and train their personnel. Insurance companies also employ forensic scientist to help in verifying insurance claims. Intelligence agencies such as the State Secret Service and National Intelligence also need forensic experts to gather data from relevant sources, study trends and patterns of matters threaten national security. As a forensic scientist, you can render expertise to help in humanitarian services such as in disaster management, war and conflict resolution, search and recovery of missing person, dead or alive (as done by the International Committee of the Red Cross) and emergency response systems.
Another viable option is help students in secondary schools or higher institutions understand the concept of forensics and how it affects them whether they know about it or not.  You can also organize seminars and workshops for police, immigration, the army and other law enforcement agencies and speak at forensic conferences as a resource person for a fee. Don’t just make the money your priority –passing the message is more important.  

5.     Makes you self-employed as a forensic consultant.
You may not like to work for the government or any private forensic firm. Besides being an expert in your field, you have the urge and skill to become an entrepreneur? Why not set up private practice and become a forensic consultant? Yes you can. In fact, some prosecutors and defense lawyers prefer to consult with independent forensic practitioners than with government-employed forensic experts. Why? They believe private forensic consultants would be less biased and prone to be more objective than those under the employ of the government. 
The key to becoming successful as a forensic consultant is no different than in other business. You are simply using your forensic expertise to make money. Even though you would experience challenges as in other business, the advantages are enormous. Whether you decide to build your private forensic laboratory, forensic Institute or just giving forensic counsel, your future is in your hands. You determine how much your charge for your services and control your finances.
Besides, you can decide to offer free forensic expert advice to a court of law on controversial issues. Those forensic experts that give expert opinion to courts of law are called ‘friends of court’.
Again, the “forensic market” depends on the country, awareness of the public, the seriousness of crimes committed and the desperateness of parties involved,  the acceptance of law enforcement agencies about the viability forensic evidence in legal matters and the government’s resolve to strengthen the criminal justice system of its country with forensic investigations. These issues are critical to becoming successful as a forensic consultant.

 Also, a forensic expert is not a lawyer except he or she has graduated from law school. Hence, as a forensic consultant who hasn’t been called to the bar, you cannot represent or speak for a client in a law court as their lawyer –no! But you can testify in court as the client’s expert witness by presenting and defending forensic evidence relevant to the case. 

Interestingly, a lawyer without forensics expertise may not know what kind of evidence to recover and how to recover them –but you the forensic expert, do. That is why and where you needed because you are the expert. You should be consulted. A person who is not a forensic expert will make a fool of themselves. They are among the problem facing the forensic world today. You should know your onions well before you set up private practice. Or else, discover the talented ones in different specialties and bring them under one ‘roof’. You’ve got yourself a team. A forensic team!
Whatever the case, objectivity and being unbiased in the counsel or service you render as forensic consultant is what builds your credibility, integrity and ultimate success in the business as a forensic consultant. Wish you success!

6.     Gives you relevance to your society
Every field of study in academics is important. You would agree that among the first category of persons to appear at a murder crime scene or mass disaster scene like airplane crash site are the forensic experts. The gory scene of scattered human body parts and blood spatter and the eagerness of the authorities to unravel the mystery behind incident make the forensic experts relevant for the situation. Also, because accountants, economists, lawyers, engineers, government officials are not trained for search, recovery and analysis and interpretation of evidence, they are not the first ports of call. It is the forensic experts. 

Aside that, national relevance, forensic experts that have distinguished themselves in their specialties have been invited to be parted of investigations in foreign countries either as private consultants or on behalf of their home governments. (FBI, Canadian forensic police, UK forensics in Nigeria)

7.     Offers opportunity to serve humanity
Forensic science provides the skills needed for humanitarian causes. The beauty of forensic science is that no matter your area of specialty, there is a unique role for everyone. You do not have to be medical doctor or a lawyer to be in care of people’s lives. No. 
According to the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), “When people die during wars or disasters, or while migrating, their bodies must be handled respectfully and with dignity; and the remains of unknown individuals must be searched for, recovered and identified. Humanitarian work has come to include these tasks, for which forensic science offers matchless tools and expertise”.
Mass disasters, wars, armed conflicts and immigration related incidents are issues that make applying your forensic skills worth it. You need to be in the shoes of people in IDP camps some of which their loved ones are missing due to wars or disasters. Wives not finding husbands, husbands not finding wives and parents searching for their missing children are a common thing. And many times, families don’t know whether their relatives are alive or not. In cases where dead bodies are involved which are sometimes unrecognizable, special skill is required for searching, recovery, identification and documentation. 
Working with local and international agencies and organizations that are into humanitarian work would afford you the opportunity to put your forensic expertise to good use –for the cause of humanity.
It is important to note that forensic science is not infallible. Pros and cons exist for every plan or process. But it is how those challenges in forensic science are managed and overcome that gives this field of scientific evidence its credibility and glory. Instances exists where the validity and conclusions of some types of forensic evidences given by forensic experts has been under scrutiny leading to the mistrust of many scientific evidences presented in courts. The FBI one of the proponents of forensics in the world admitted to these flaws when it acknowledged that it reviewed 250 cases where its forensic scientists gave expert testimony on hair identification and almost every one of them could not be scientifically defended. Also misapplications in forensic science have been brought to light which has prompted calls to strengthen the scientific validations and establish verifiable forensic conclusions that are purely objective without bias.



These issues does not in anyway wash away the many good things forensic science has done and will continue to do in convicting the guilty and exonerating the innocent. The criticisms of challenges facing forensic science are needed to further strengthen the underlying principles guiding its applications given the seriousness and the human lives at stake. Criminals have been rightfully convicted using forensic science. People have been wrongfully convicted with forensic science yet innocent people have been exonerated using forensic science, proving their innocence.