One of the most important factors in determining the cause of a crime is the evidence left behind at the scene. Perhaps a quote from well-known criminologist Edmond Locard best describes the forensic approach to gathering evidence. His motto of "Every contact leaves a trace" suggests that all criminals leave behind some clue and take with them some evidence that links them to the crime. Forensic scientists scour the crime scene, procure evidence of the crime, and conduct analyses on these items to deduce the truth. These traces can be bloodstains, footprints or threads from clothing. Forensic scientists have the difficult job of analysing this trace evidence and finding links to potential suspects. Just retrieving trace evidence from a crime scene takes a tremendous amount of skill. Forensic scientists often join crime scene investigators, and together they collect evidence with tape lifters, forensic vacuums and infrared detection light. Once the crime scene evidence is gathered and analysed in a forensic lab, detectives can continue their investigation with science on their side.
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Criminal investigators need a clear picture of the details surrounding a victim's death. The examination of a body after death to provide insight on its causes is called an autopsy. This process is the result of years of scientific development and forensic experience. An autopsy is the most accurate method of determining whether or not a death was accidental. A coroner or pathologist performs the autopsy to reveal such important details as identity of the victim, the weapon or cause of death and the time of death. Although this job is not for the faint of heart, it has become a popular career in forensic science. This could be due in part to the popularity of "CSI," a television drama about a group of forensic scientists.
Forensic science can help investigators narrow down a list of probable suspects. It takes more than suspicion alone to arrest and convict a person. The evidence must directly link the suspect with the scene of the crime. Unlikely suspects have to be ruled out, and persons of interest must be singled out. Sometimes, this correlation is aided with the help of forensic science. Handwriting analysis can prove forgery and also link suspects to the scene of a crime. Polygraphs are administered by forensic scientists and have helped to prove both innocence and guilt. Gathering and analysing fingerprints can provide a crucial link to weapons of violent assault and their possible owners. Forensic science can also help locate a suspect based on a known illness or disease. These techniques are used in conjunction with other investigatory tools, but are an integral part of the criminal justice process.
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