Forensic Science is science used in the administration of the law. It can detect crime, identify offenders, exonerate suspects and prevent crime.
In the United Kingdom forensic science work is split between employees of the police and forensic scientists who work for independent organisations. The police employ Scenes of Crime Officers (also known as Crime Scene Investigators) whose duties include the collection of potential evidential material at crime scenes and carrying out fingerprint work. Some police forces now also have their own forensic science laboratories. Independent forensic science laboratories employ a wide range of specialist scientists some of whom present evidence at courts of law.
A wide variety of scientific disciplines are represented in forensic science including, as well as biologists and chemists, toxicologists, ballistics experts, document examiners, anthropologists, entomologists, and metallurgists.
One of the first recorded uses of forensic science in the United Kingdom occurred in 1786 when John Toms was convicted of murder on the basis of a torn wad of paper found in a pistol matching a remaining piece in his pocket. In 1880, Henry Faulds of Scotland published a paper suggesting fingerprints at the scene of a crime could identify the offender.
In 1889, French forensic medicine professor Alexandre Lacassagne developed a method to individualize bullets to a gun barrel using the pattern of bullet grooves. The use of fingerprints was introduced in 1901, initially to identify suspects, by Sir Edward Henry, the head of the Metropolitan Police in London. Human blood groups were discovered by Austrian Karl Landsteiner in 1901. Another Austrian, Dieter Max Richter, developed a method of grouping bloodstains.
The first police crime laboratory was established by Edmund Locard in Lyon, France in 1910. In 1920 Locard proposed his Exchange Principle which states that every contact involving a person and an object results in a transfer, however small, of physical material between them. This is sometimes expressed as ‘every contact leaves a trace’.
The first forensic science laboratory in the United Kingdom was opened in Hendon, London in 1935. In 1984, a revolution in forensic science was heralded when Sir Alec Jeffreys of the University of Leicester, England discovered a method of identifying individuals from DNA: Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP), dubbed DNA Fingerprinting. DNA evidence was used for the first time in 1986 as part of a murder investigation in England. The first National DNA database was established in the United Kingdom in 1993.
The FBI in the United States hosted the first International Conference on Computer Evidence in 1993 and in 2006 American courts defined digital information as a new form of evidence. Since this time, the use of digital forensics has increased rapidly throughout the world.
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