What is Forensic
The word forensic comes
from the Latin word forensis: public; to the forum or public discussion;
argumentative, rhetorical, belonging to debate or discussion. From there it is a
small step to the modern definition of forensic as belonging to, used in or
suitable to courts of judicature, or to public discussion or debate. Forensic
science is science used in public, in a court or in the justice system. Any
science, used for the purposes of the law, is a forensic science.
scientist's goal is the evenhanded use of all available information to determine
the facts and, subsequently, the truth.
Forensic science is a
rewarding career where the love of science can be applied to the good of
society, public health, and public safety.
The work of the forensic
scientist may reduce the number of cases entering our overloaded court system by
assisting the decision-makers before a case reaches the court.
The forensic scientist
is entirely responsible for the work he performs; no one else can write his
report nor testify to his opinion.
However, it takes teamwork
to solve a crime. Scientists work closely with police officers, sheriff's
deputies, prosecuting and defense attorneys, DEA, CIA, and FBI agents,
immigration workers, and crime scene investigators, to name a few.
The forensic scientist, no
matter where or by whom he is employed, works only for truth.
The forensic scientist
must be impartial and unbiased. The forensic scientist must tell all of the
truth, "the whole truth," no matter what it is or whom it hurts or helps. An
expert opinion can be offered only if there are scientific facts upon which to
What's A Forensic
A forensic scientist is
first a scientist. When he applies his scientific knowledge to assist juries,
attorneys, and judges in understanding science, he is a forensic scientist.
Forensic scientists are
thinkers, good with details, good with putting pieces of a puzzle together, and
curious. Some scientists work in laboratories and some also go out to places
where crimes are committed (crime scenes). Others teach in colleges and
How Much Money Will I
Income in the forensic
sciences varies greatly depending upon your degree, your actual job, where you
work, and how many hours you work. You may never "get rich" but you will have a
good income. You will be satisfied with your job, knowing you are contributing
to justice — keeping the good guys on the street and helping put the bad guys in
jail. Forensic scientists work different hours, depending upon what they do.
Some work in forensic laboratories and work 40 hours a week, Monday through
Friday. Others work out in the field on digs and may work different hours. Still
others are "on call" and work after their regular shift and receive overtime or
compensatory (comp) time. Essentially every branch of forensic science offers
opportunities for personal growth, career advancement, and increasing financial
IN OTHER COUNTRIES- SALARY
- $ 2730 TO $ 3484 Per Month. or $ 46,452 to $ 72,000 Per Annum.
Where Will I Work?
Forensic scientists work
in laboratories, at crime scenes, in offices, and in morgues. They may work for
federal, state and local government, forensic laboratories, medical examiners
offices, hospitals, universities, toxicology laboratories, police departments,
medical examiner/coroner offices, or as independent forensic science
What kind of study do
you need to become a forensic scientist ?
It depends on the field.
There are several universities (see education listing) that offer courses in
forensic science. However most often an appropriate study (as biology for DNA,
computer science for the forensic computer science department, pathology for the
pathologists), is needed for the different fields. Since there exist many
different fields in forensic science, it is hard to say what kind of study is
needed. My own background is in Physics, and I worked for the laboratory in the
various fields as image processing and computer science, firearms and toolmarks.
I just applied for the job after working at the research department of a company
in digital copiers.
If you are a student from
India, you could join forensic science in a number of ways. Many universities in
India offer M.Sc. Courses in Forensic Sciences. Main
among these are:
1- Lok Nayak Jayaprakash
Narayan National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science,
Ministry of Home Affairs,
Government of India,
Sector III, Institutional
Outer Ring Road,
2- Admission Office, Amity
Campus, Sector - 44, Noida – 201 303
Amity Center, E-25, Defence Colony, New Delhi
– 110 024
Amity Institute offers the
following four courses in Forensic Science.
B.Sc. (Hons.) Forensic
Sciences (3 years)
M.Sc. Forensic Sciences (2
PG Diploma in Forensic
Science (1 year)
PG Diploma in Cyber Crime
& Cyber Law (1 year)
3- Department of
Criminology and Forensic Science,
Dr. Hari Singh Gaur
Sagar, Sagar University,
PIN-470 003 India
4- Department of
Criminology and Forensic Science,
5- Department of Forensic
Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar
6 -Punjabi University, Patiala, India
I have talked to many
students (over phone mostly) who have a great love for forensics, and would love
to pursue a course in it. But they are hesitant to join it. Why? Because they
have heard from someone that the scope for Forensics is limited in our country.
This is simply not true. My answer to this is simple - Your scope for ANY job is
limited if you are mediocre in your specialty. And that includes Forensics. If
you excel in your subject, there is no reason, why you can not make a name for
you and your country.
A number of bright
youngsters are today looking for unexplored areas where they can achieve success
quickly and rise to big positions in a relatively short span of time. If you are
a youngster with this view, this page is for you.
The first and foremost is
that it is a challenging field, which fills you with lot of job satisfaction.
The field is relatively unknown at present. Not many youngsters are aware of
this discipline, so job positions are relatively easy to get, and you get a
raise in hierarchical position very quickly. Above all, you can have the
satisfaction of playing the real Sherlock Holmes!
I am an entomologist.
What are my chances?
youngsters with a Ph.D. Degree in entomology wrote to me asking how they could
join forensic sciences. They could pursue a course in Forensic Entomology and
become very successful Forensic Entomologists. These are the specialists who can
help the law by their specialized knowledge of insects. For instance, if a
corpse is infested with maggots, they can study them and can tell the time of
death of that person. The cause of death could also be inferred in some cases,
especially if the person was poisoned. If that were the case, maggots would
ingest some of it along with the flesh. If the person was completely reduced to
bones, the maggots could still be examined for the poison, because they had
ingested it. If the maggots had metamorphosed into adult flies and had flown
away, even then the poison ingested could be found out! How? Well, before
turning into adults, the maggots first pupate. For this they move out of the
body. About a few yards away from the body, they pupate and when they become
adults, the pupa shells are left behind. A careful search around the body would
enable the forensic entomologist to successfully identify them. These pupa
shells can be examined and analysed for poisons. If the poison was present in
the body in the first place, it would be ingested by maggots, and in turn passed
on to the pupa shells. Forensic entomologists have even taken out the DNA of a
dead individual from the guts of maggots and have successfully found out about
the identity of the deceased person!
Here are some more
examples of how a forensic botanist can help in the investigation of crime.
(i) A dead body is found
in a forest. The crime investigation team calls a forensic botanist. He recovers
several pollen grains from the dead man’s shirt, which come from fir trees.
There are no fir trees around. The inevitable conclusion: Either the man worked
in an area where there were fir tress, or he was murdered at such a place. The
police look around and ten miles away find a place where there are fir trees.
Some blood is found, which can be matched with that of the murder victim. Some
tire marks are found at this “new” scene of crime, from which the murderer’s car
can be identified and he is apprehended. Had the forensic botanist not told
about fir trees, the police would never have ventured as far as ten miles away
from the scene of crime!
(ii) A dead body is lying
in a forest. The leaves and grass under his body have turned yellow. If shielded
from the sun, leaves and grass loose their chlorophyll in a certain fixed
interval of time (two weeks minimum). From this observation it can be said that
the body was lying there for at least two weeks (Calculation of the time since
(iii) A thief enters the
house of a person through a window on the first floor. The entry is through his
garden. The thief is clever enough to use gloves to prevent leaving
fingerprints. He also takes care to wipe all footprints, and thinks he has done
a perfect crime. Next day about ten suspects are rounded up, who were seen
loitering around that region at the time the burglary was committed. The police
asks them to submit their clothes. A forensic botanist examines the pollen
grains found on the clothes of all. Only the clothes of the actual criminal
actually match the “pollen print” of the victim’s garden. He is apprehended.
(iv) What is a “pollen
print”? Well, every geographical area - small or large - has a unique “pollen
print”. It refers to the specific combination of the types of pollens and spores
found only in that area. The specific ration of the pollen grains further
“individualizes” the pollen print. Let us imagine that the victim above grew 5
different types of flowers in his garden - roses, marigolds, Carnation (Dianthus
caryophyllus), petunia and tulips, and they were in such numbers that the
ambient air in and around the garden contained pollens in the following ratio:
Carnation: petunia: tulips = 25%:10%:20%:30%:15%
This is the “pollen print”
of the victim’s garden. On entering the garden, the suspect would have gone
through this ambient air, and the pollens would have stuck to his clothes in
roughly the same ratio. Any other suspect who has not been to that garden is
very unlikely to have the very same pollen in the very same ration. It has even
been said that pollen prints could have been used in the famous O.J.Simpson
case. It is known that the person who killed Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown and
her boy friend Ron Goldman on the night of June 12, 1994 hid in ambush under a
flowering willow tree before escaping. In this situation the killer's hair and
clothes would have got heavily soiled with the pollen from this tree. All the
police had to do was to collect pollen samples from the hair and clothes of
O.J.Simpson. Had willow pollen been found in these places, it would have been
very difficult for the defense to account for them. On the other hand if no
willow pollen had been found, the defence case would have got stronger, and
there would be much less suspicion surrounding the case today. It is however a
fact that the only country to use forensic botany in courts on a regular basis
is NewZealand. Police personnel in other countries are simply not aware of its
Pollen prints are now used
in investigation of terrorism. Suspect letters, letter bombs etc would have the
pollen print of the area where they originated. Thus the origin of such letters
can be determined. The science of analyzing pollen and spores to help solve
criminal cases is known as Forensic palynology.
I know a lot about
computers. Can I also be a forensic specialist?
Great! You certainly can.
You can have a bright future in computer forensics. These are the specialists
who can analyse a computer and tell to the police all the illegal activities
going on through that. If someone has been sending offending, threatening or
sexually explicit mails to other persons, he can no more get away by simply
denying his involvement. A computer forensic specialist can sit at his computer
and can retrieve all the messages he has been sending through it. You might
think that deleting these messages from the computer would erase all evidence,
but this is not the case, as any computer specialist will tell you. People who
have been throwing computer viruses through the internet have been caught in a
similar way. There are a host of other illegal activities in the field of
computers, such as hacking, altering banking records, personnel information etc,
which can be caught by a forensic computer specialist.
These days, high tech
crimes are being carried out by passing on messages through internet, Emails,
websites etc. A forensic computer specialist can catch all of them. In a recent
case of attack on the Indian Parliament by some terrorists (13 December 2001), a
laptop was found in the possession of some of their supporters, and lot of
incriminating information could be retrieved from it. On the basis of that
information, more terrorists were later apprehended.
Amity Institute (please
see above), offers a one year PG Diploma in Cyber Crime and Cyber Law.
How much does it earn ?
Please visit the job
Listings of the AAFS to get an idea. For the situation in the Netherlands
Forensic Institute, depending on the level (experience and education) from EURO
22.000 to EURO 50.000 (1 EURO equals approximately one dollar). Forensic
Pathology might pay EURO 70.000, and of course the management positions will pay
until EURO 80.000. In the Netherlands we work 36 hours a week, so it means you
can work four days a week of nine hours (this condition is often not available
in the United States).
What are the advantages
of the job ?
There are several reasons
to become a forensic scientist :
- the final result
of your work is often visible to yourself and others (so much involvement in the
- every case is
unique, so there is often much variation
- if you work in a
forensic laboratory with different fields of expertise, it is nice to work
together and write a report together
- to implement and
validate new techniques
What are the
disadvantages of the job ?
Some cases can have a high
impact on yourself, because there are things that happen which you did not
expect to be real and you see them visually. Furthermore it is hard to plan the
number of cases (if you accept them all), so sometimes work load can be an
You have to go to court on
the most unexpected moments, and since this takes often a long time waiting
outside of the court room, this can be boring. Also you have to consider that
often you have to do lots of administration work for a case, since it is
important for quality assurance to know what examination had been done to an
Sometimes journalists will
call you even at home, and try to get information from you.
In this work criticism is
something you should cope with in a proper way. You might be confronted with
this in court or you might also have this with the personal certification and
the rules around it. Even if you are experienced for a long time, you might be
confronted with new insights and new methods.
If you draw a wrong
conclusion, you should always admit that for the court. An interesting article
was in Science and Justice, Vol. 43, No. 2, "Context effects in forensic
science: a review and application of the science of science to crime laboratory
practice in the United States",
by MJ Saks, DM Risinger, R Rosenthal and WC Thompson. When working on case work
you might become influenced by the context effect. You will receive a case with
the complete story from the police. This sounds interesting, however it can
result in becoming biased. Furthermore if you might hear other results from your
colleagues in other sections, and you are drawing conclusions from the evidence,
with their conclusions in mind. The article describes a method of minimizing the
context effect, by having a central front desk with persons who know very much
about forensic science. They will discuss the case. The forensic scientists in
the laboratory just are limited to the information that they receive from this
person, and it should be restricted to a minimum in order not to get biased.
The risks of doing blind tests are also discussed in this article.
Validation of new
techniques is not always possible. If you are using a new method and would like
to use it in court, it is on the court to decide if it is admissible. Since many
systems are becoming more complex (software programs etc), it is often
impossible to do a complete validation, since there are too many variables that
change in time (software version, hardware components etc) which you can not
(Source- 1- The American Academy
of Forensic Sciences. 2- Anil Aggrawal.)