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The Branches of Forensic Science – An Overview of its Various Disciplines

Forensic Science and its cardinal role in criminal investigations can be aptly summarized in the words of Fiction Writer, Chuck Palahniuk.

Everything is a self-portrait. A diary. Your whole drug history’s in a strand of your hair. Your fingernails. The forensic details. The lining of your stomach is a document. The calluses on your hand tell all your secrets. Your teeth give you away. Your accent. The wrinkles around your mouth and eyes. Everything you do shows your hand.”

This is precisely what Forensic Science is, in a nutshell!

Forensic Science with its multi-disciplinary approach is that essential link that helps glue together all kinds of evidence in any form of investigation. It involves the application of the principles and methodologies of various disciplines of science to legal matters. Here is a bird’s eye view of the diverse branches of Forensic Science.

1. Trace Evidence Analysis:

Going by Locard’s Principle that “everything leaves a contact”, trace evidence analysis provides crucial links to the perpetrator. Trace evidence is anything that is transferred during the commitment of a crime such as human/animal hair, rope, soil, fabric fibers, feathers, building materials etc. Trace Evidence Analysis involves the recovery of such evidence and their forensic examination to obtain information that can be used in the court of law in association with a case or to answer any other legal query.

2. Forensic Toxicology:

Forensic Toxicology is the study of the presence of toxic substance inside a body and the effect that they had on the individual. It encompasses methods and procedures from various disciplines such as analytical and clinical chemistry, and pharmacology to aid in the medical and legal investigation of death due to poisoning or drugs. This branch of forensic science is of prime importance in road accidents, poisoning, and sexual violence.

3. Forensic Psychology:

Forensic Psychology is the application of psychology to legal and criminal matters. Forensic psychologists study criminals and their crimes to draw conclusions about the personality traits of the perpetrators and thus assist in criminal profiling. Criminal profiling involves giving a detailed description of the personality and behavioral traits of the criminal. Forensic psychologists perform multi-faceted tasks some of which are counseling victims of a crime, evaluating child custody, death notification procedures, and evaluation of post-traumatic stress disorder.

4. Forensic Podiatry:

Forensic Podiatry deals with the application of specific podiatric knowledge i.e. an understanding of the abnormalities and diseases of the ankle, foot, and lower body, and lower limb anatomy, and musculoskeletal function. This is particularly helpful in the investigation of foot-based evidence with respect to a criminal incident.

5. Forensic Pathology:

The branch of pathology that deals with the examination of a corpse to determine the cause of death is called Forensic Pathology. It involves the deduction of facts admissible in the court of law by collecting and analyzing medical samples. For example, a forensic pathologist can examine a wound to identify the weapon used to cause that. Therefore, forensic pathology helps draw crucial inferences on whether the death is natural, criminal or accidental.

6. Forensic Odontology:

Forensic Odontology/Forensic Dentistry involves the proper handling, analysis, and evaluation of any form of dental evidence that would be later used as a legal evidence in the court of law. Often when the victim’s body is left in an unrecognizable state, it is forensic odontology that helps investigators in identifying them. Forensic dentists play a crucial role in the comparative identification of a person by analyzing the development and anatomy of the teeth including filling or other restorative dental corrections. Criminal investigations comprising bite marks largely involve the discipline of Forensic Odontology.

7. Forensic Linguistics:

Forensic Linguistics involves the application of linguistic knowledge and methods to criminal investigations and judicial proceedings. Such linguistic experts are skilled at analyzing the written and spoken language of a perpetrator to draw crucial inferences about the offender’s age, gender, age, education level, culture, ethnicity, socio-economic and geographical background, and for that matter even spiritual and religious beliefs! They are involved in the careful examination of forensic texts such as emergency calls, demands of ransom, suicide notes, social media and death row statements.

8. Forensic Geology:

Forensic Geology or Geoforensics deals with the examination of evidence related to materials found in the Earth such as oil, petroleum, minerals, soil, rocks and the like. Such examination is associated with the forensic context such as investigations and answering questions put forward by the legal system. Thus, Forensic Geologists analyze earth materials recovered from the incident scene, victim or suspect to strengthen evidence against the suspect, draw inferences about the time and cause of the incident and to obtain other relevant information as a part of the investigation.

9. Forensic Entomology:

Forensic Entomology involves the application and study of the biology of insects and other arthropods such as arachnids, centipedes, millipedes, and crustaceans to solve criminal cases. Due to the presence of such organisms in decomposing ruins, forensic entomology is primarily used for death investigations, determination of the location of an incident, postmortem interval and to arrive at the precise time of the infliction of wounds.

10. Forensic Engineering:

Never thought that there would be a different branch of forensics altogether for the investigation of products, materials, mechanical components or structures that fail or are unable to function as desired resulting in personal injury or property damage? Well, that is what Forensic Engineering is all about. It involves the application of engineering principles for the investigation and analysis of such mechanical and structural failures.

11. Forensic DNA Analysis:

In addition to fingerprints, DNA is the other biological parameter which is unique to a particular individual. DNA profiling is a commonly used forensic technique in criminal investigations for the identification of an anonymous person or to zero in on the perpetrator. The biological evidence used for DNA profiling include hair, skin, semen, urine, blood, saliva and even body remains in burn cases.

12. Forensic Botany:

As is evident from its name, Forensic Botany is the study and examination of plant-based evidence (leaves, flowers, wood, fruits, seeds, pollen) for criminal and non-criminal investigations and for answering other legal questions. Though it is still quite under-utilized in forensic investigations, application of botany in criminal investigations have helped investigators in the past to ascertain the manner and time of death in certain complex cases. Botanic trace evidence recovered from an incident scene often help in establishing crucial links to the suspect(s).

13. Forensic Archeology:

Wonder how geophysical and geological surveying techniques are used in forensics? That’s Forensic Archeology for you! Such techniques along with the use of photography and imaging enable forensic archeologists to assist the police and investigating officers to identify the site where the victim’s body and personal items, or robbed goods are buried. Forensic archeologists are also often leveraged for carrying out excavations or digs at historical and pre-historical sites. Such scientists are adept at using a range of techniques, one being carbon dating, to ascertain the age of items retrieved during an excavation. They often carry out mass excavations to produce evidence for war crimes trials, gas or bomb explosions, plane crashes and the like.

14. Forensic Anthropology:

In the course of an incident, bodies are sometimes rendered unrecognizable due to mutilation, burning, natural degradation etc. In such cases, Forensic Anthropology comes into the picture. Forensic anthropologists can examine human bodies/skeletons to help identify the individuals and arrive at the cause of death. They are skilled at determining the age, sex, race, and physique of an individual from the bones or bone fragments. Additionally, they can also determine the manner of death (suicide, accidental or due to disease), as well as if a bone injury retrieved was before, during or after the death.

15. Digital Forensics:

Digital Forensics is the current buzzword in the world of forensics. It involves the extraction and analysis of digital evidence (such as those found in computers, hard disks, USB drives etc.) using the most powerful forensic tools. It is mostly used in the investigation of cybercrimes. Digital Forensics is also associated with the criminal law where the digital evidence recovered is used to support or counter a hypothesis in the court of law.

16. Forensic Ballistics:

Forensic Ballistics involves the analysis of any evidence related to firearms (bullets, bullet marks, shell casings, gunpowder residue etc.). This branch of science is particularly used in the investigation of incidents involving the use of a firearm, to draw inferences on the exact weapon used, the distance, velocity, and angle of firing, and ultimately the shooter himself

Texial – A premier private Forensic Laboratory in India

Texial is a premier private forensic lab headquartered in Chennai and having an office in Bangalore. In spite of being quite young in the forensic domain of India, Texial Lab has emerged as the pioneer in the private forensic laboratory segment. They boast of a strong team comprising forensic experts specializing in multiple forensic domains. That, coupled with a state-of-the-art digital and cyber forensic laboratory, has rendered them as a trustable resource for assistance on any kind of investigation. Texial Lab adopts the latest technological and forensic techniques to ensure that no stone is left unturned in any form of forensic analysis.

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