Forensic science past, present and future


“Just as life depends on the equal functioning of the tripod of life i.e., heart, lung and brain, so also a successful investigation of crime depends on equal functioning of forensic medicine, forensic science and police investigation”.


-Professor L. Fimate, in his inaugural speech on the occasion of XXII Annual Conference of The Indian Academy Of Forensic Medicine, Jaipur, India, 5 – 7 January 2001


Forensics, a science against crime has derived its name from forensic meaning forum. Forensic sciences started its origin from finger printing by Chinese in 700s and attracted attention of the whole world because of its methods to catch crime in criminal matters, civil laws and judicial systems by police agencies. Because of its unbelievable working in criminology no one was able to deny its importance.


“To write the history of identification is to write the history of criminology”


-Edmond Locard, French Criminologist


Scientific world started taking interest in opening new ways to catch crime and started using modern ways in detection against crime with the passage of time. Microscope, which showed hope to other fields also proved very useful for Forensics as well. It was used in the beginning to detect sperms from objects obtained from crime scenes in rape cases. Police started documentation and evidence identification according to the requirements for Forensics analysis. Solving a case on forensics basis was a tough task in the beginning for the scientists but it didnt remain as it is for much longer times.


“We have the potential within our grasp of a technology that in routine investigations will identify suspects as reliably as fingerprints”.


-Jeremy Travis in “Blood Trail – True crime mysteries”


In 1916, with the emergence of field of “Genetics” new ways for detection opened and scientists started observing inheritance patterns in paternity cases. No doubt, genetics supported forensics since beginning and provided more solid proves against crimes. Max Frei-Sulzer founded the first Swiss Criminalistic laboratory in 1950 and provided uplift to Forensics. United Kingdom published the first criminalistics text material in 1953 and attracted the world towards this field. Later on FBI played its major role in 1977 by introducing first Automated Fingerprinting Identification System (AFIS). Introduction of this system started a race in the field of Forensics which got more attention with the introduction of Mendilian laws of inheritance.


“Our genetic differences are at the heart of one of the most fascinating paradoxes of the human condition: that we are all different, yet we are all the same”.


-Geneticist Mary-Claire King in “Suspect Identities – A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification”


A complete new era opened in the field of Forensics and scientists from all over the world started their endless efforts to enhance and upgrade this field of research to continue their fight against crime.


“No scientific basis exists for requiring that a pre-determined minimum number of friction ridge features must be present in two impressions in order to establish a positive identification”.


– Simon A. Cole in “Suspect Identities – A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification”


Detection of blood group system and rhesus factors made their lives a bit easier but still there was a long way to go. Forensics started advancing with advancements in the field of genetics where HLA system and Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphisms (RFLPs) opened new ways for investigation. A new approach was opened in the field of Forensics when FBI started using DNA in Forensics case work. This race moved on with the introduction variable number tandem repeats (VNTRs), short tandem repeats (STRs), single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and copy number variations (CNVs). Development of STR system helped to solve cases where getting full profiles was not feasible. Mini and micro satellite systems were also introduced to solve sensitive cases of person identification. Out of millions of SNPs few SNPs were detected which can be used to solve person identification cases. Computerized systems and software were developed for the accurate analysis and comparison of obtained data. Chips were prepared for analyzing samples in least time. Population structure analysis became easier with the development of CNVs detection procedure.


“DNA technology could be the greatest single advance in the search for truth, conviction of the guilty, and aquittal of the innocent since the advent of cross-examination”.


-Judge Joseph Harris in “DNA Fingerprinting- An introduction”


Many identification kits were developed for different types of cases. Databases were developed all over the world to keep record of all the criminals and suspects for future correspondence. Not only new cases but old cases were reopened due to advancements in detection of profiles even from ancient DNA. MiniSTRs are of great importance in this context which help in generating profile from degraded DNA or very low sample of DNA.In previous times, generating a DNA profile from ancient sample was a serious issue but with advancements in the field of Forensics, new methods and kits are developed to get better profiles in lesser times.


“Direct questioning in the initial stages of a trial is like a walk in the park when compared with the antagonistic manner evident in cross examination”.


-Tom Bevel and Ross M. Gardner in “Bloodstain pattern analysis”,


Now Forensics sciences is helping in solving most of the criminal cases because of its originality but still more advancements are required in this field to save time and to reduce chances of errors. Human restless nature is advancing this field speedily and now whole genome sequencing is making life of police and criminologists much easier and closing the ways for crime escape. Scientists are now moving towards cellular level to check the cause of violent crimes. Not only in Forensics but these efforts opened new ways of research in human diseases as well.


Forensic science is still on its way to find new and easier methods and will be more helpful in future.


“In any legitimate justice system, … truth must play a paramount and integral role… The very survival of the rule of law depends not only on a justice system that administers the law fairly, but a system that is just by being well-grounded in … truth …More research is needed in the techniques and science already in use. With the importance of forensic science to truth and justice, the science employed and relied upon by judges and juries must be valid. It does not matter how well forensic scientists abide by testing protocols, or how reliable the techniques are, if the underlying science does not actually reveal what the expert says it does. Method validation studies and new research must be on-going even in the area of traditional forensic disciplines”.


Melson KE. The journey to justice. Journal of Forensic Sciences 2003; 48:705

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