The Role and Importance of Forensic Medicine
Since the turn of the century, forensic science has undergone a significant transformation due to advancement in medical technology. Moreover, it has grown to be an established tool in modern legal practice. As cited by De Forest, Gaensslen, and Lee (2003), forensic science, particularly medicine is extensively used in courts as a primary source of evidence that affects the outcomes of cases. Due to the improved accuracy, the science has attained significant merit even though it is still relatively novice in the jurisprudence world. Over the last two decades, the police have been accused of using forensic evidence as a silver bullet in closing cases. Additionally, using the method has often led to wrong individuals being convicted (Wilson, 2004). Though this may seem like a shortcoming on the part of the forensic scientist or doctors, it is not the case. The technical capabilities of the 21st-century breakthroughs, such as the current DNA mapping technology introduced in 2015 that can generate a facial profile, have reduced the chances of incarcerating the wrong individuals (Edwards & Gotsonis, 2015). With the current changes and input of forensic medicine, it is important to understand its role as well as significance in the jurisprudence world.
The Link between medicine and law dates back to the Egyptian civilization. At the time, medical specialists used to perform autopsies before mummification. The process enabled them to tell the cause of death (Saferstein, 2013).According toVij (2014), the use of forensic science in law has been in existence for centuries. French scientist Mathieu Orfilia, first practiced forensic medicine back in 1840. Mr. Lafarge was murdered, and his wife was the main suspect. Notwithstanding, due to the lack of physical evidence, the courts could not convict Lafarge’s wife and thus let her go. Orfilia had assessed Mr. Lafarge’s body and later determined that he had poisoned, and died from it. Forensic science principles were used to conduct tests in the body of Mr. Lafarge which was found to have traces of arsenic proving that he was poisoned. After investigations, his wife was the main suspect (White, Lester, Gentile, & Rosenbleeth, 2011).
Figure 1. graphical representation of use of forensic science before and after the turn of the century
Figure 1 above is a graphical representation of the use of forensic since in the legal jurisprudence. Due to the improvements of forensic medicine it is evident that both the public as well as the courts have a higher confidence rating on forensic evidence thus shoeing confidence in the US justice system
Role of Forensic Medicine
The principal role of forensic medicine is to medically identify the results of a crime through the examination of the individuals involved. Forensic medicine primarily deals with the assessment of individuals that are suspected to have perpetrated criminal acts. The science is also used to examine the victims of crimes to both determine cause and evidence that could lead law enforcement officers to the perpetrators. Gee and Knight (2005) assert that forensic medicine is used to examine two classes of individuals, the first being those injured or killed as a result of fatal blows (trauma), intoxication, and other means. The second class of individuals is those suspected to have caused harm or killed (Houck, 2016). Moreover, it should be noted that forensic medicine not only investigates crimes but also suicides as well as accidental fatalities through the field of forensic pathology.
Forensic pathology is a sub-section of forensic medicine that purely deals with the investigation of deceased individuals and is driven by the cause of death (DiMaio & DiMaio, 2011). Though the courts recognize the work of forensic pathology, the legislation regarding the role it plays in a case varies from one jurisdiction to another (Dolinak, Matshes, & Lew, 2005). Most commonly, when an individual’s death is linked to criminal activity or foul play, a forensic pathologist is formally involved at the request of the police or the prosecutor. The role of the forensic expert in such a scenario is to assist in the investigation under the title of a subject expert. A court or one of the parties in a case can request expert witnesses in court proceedings. (Froede, 2000).
The Significance of Forensic Medicine
The task of forensic pathologists is to offer medical information that would help to serve justice to perpetrators and victims of crime. Consequently, this role is different from that of a clinical doctor in regards to the relationship to a patient considering doctors usually take up an advocate’s role in a trial. Vij (2014) posits that pathologists must ensure that the mood of the court remains unbiased..’ A specialist should assist the court to make an impartial judgment based on forensic science principles as well as experience. Doing so allows the justice system to improve its services by reducing the chances of wrongful convictions as well as offers a clear understanding of the motives that may lead to a criminal conviction or a pardon. As mentioned, forensic evidence is used in murder trials because it creates a link between offenders and their victims as well as the crime scenes by identifying physical evidence. According to Shepherd (2003), in its current format, it is not a magic bullet that is used as a tool to imprison but an avenue to make the best judgment that guarantees justice.
Over the years there has been an unexpectedly high rate of inaccuracies in the laboratory, which has caused individuals to question the use of forensics in law. However, according to Shepherd (2003), the separation of obligations by specifically creating a forensic medical department constitutes reduced probability of mistakes, such as cross-contamination and the mix-up of DNA samples. Medical forensic medical experts are best trained to deal with physical evidence and make a biological comprehension on their causes, which increases the chances of the jury making the right judgment in sensitive court cases, such as murder. It should be taken to notice that victims of nonfatal injuries as a result of intentional or accidental causes are usually awarded services from the healthcare system. Forensic scientists exist within the legal system but offer the best avenues to offer justice to these individuals.
Forensic science as not only played a crucial role in forensic medicine but also in the criminal justice system to unravel some mysteries, for instance, the manager of death. Forensic science has existed since ancient times, whereby scientists used it to determine people’s causes of death. It is evident that the US justice system depends on forensic evidence to offer justice to the victims and perpetrators of crime. It has been credited for enabling actors within the justice system to make the right decisions regarding the guilt or innocence of an accused person. However, the failures of forensic science have caused significant abjection in the use of the evidence. The growth of forensic medicine as a singular policy to give evidence has been exponential to both defense and prosecution. Undoubtedly, forensic medicine helps judges as well as juries to make clear judgments. As new technologies in criminology and medicine continue to develop so will forensic medicine in criminology. In the future, it is likely that the science will develop enough to seal the loopholes that may lead to wrongful judgments.
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DiMaio, V. J., & DiMaio, D. (2011). Forensic Pathology. CRC press. Retrieved from www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781420042412
Dolinak, D., Matshes, E., & Lew, E. O. (2005). Forensic Pathology: Principles and Practice. Elsevier. books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=JdtgE0eHTL4C&oi=fnd&pg=PR13&dq=Forensic+pathology+&ots=Tfgem-SOi8&sig=hVpFtVgUmAIxP-ZHzE6s4x0IiMw
Edwards, H., & Gotsonis, C. (2009). Strengthening forensic science in the United States: A path forward. Latent Prints. Retrieved from latent-prints.com/images/NAS%20Congressional%20Testimony%20Mar09.pdf
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White, J. H., Lester, D., Gentile, M., & Rosenbleeth, J. (2011). The Utilization of Forensic Science and Criminal Profiling for Capturing Serial Killers. Forensic science international, 209(1-3), 160-165. www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0379073811000351
Wilson, P. (2004). Lessons from the Antipodes: Successes and Failures Of Forensic Science. Forensic Science International, 67(2), 79-87. Retrieved from www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0379073894903239