Applied Forensic Criminology
As an applied discipline, forensic criminology is not commonly understood and it’s capabilities are thus, not fully appreciated. Questions often arise concerning what services are available, and how it can help the legal practitioner? My own unique skill-set applies tacit forensic knowledge and experience to complicated or disputed evidence, in order to clarify and resolve forensic evidence discrepancies. This aptitude is the amalgam of my experience, knowledge, education, training, expertise, and success. The following are some of the most common expert witness services requested:
✦ Crime Event Reconstruction - An event reconstruction includes the logical, scientific, systematic analysis of evidence, statements, confessions, victim statements, and any other contributing elements. A reconstruction can confirm or refute actions taken at a crime scene and address disputed or unanswered questions.
✓ The significance of several smaller, individual pieces of evidence may be recognizable collectively, but indistinguishable individually - much like pieces of a puzzle. Conversely, multiple equivocal and seemingly innocuous or insignificant pieces of evidence can unite to illustrate facts and circumstances formerly unrecognized. This is a very common oversight and experience in this area is irreplaceable.
✦ Crime Scene Analysis
✓ Examine processes and protocols.
✓ Identify methodological crime scene procedure or practical flaws in application.
✓ Identify methodological investigative activity and decision-making, and/or practical flaws in the application of criminal investigations using best practices standards.
✦ Interview and Interrogation
✓ Identification of methodology, including undue coercion, taint, or suggestion. Particularly with children and other vulnerable populations.
✓ Analysis of methods and compliance with protocols.
✓ Analysis of pre & post incident victim behavior.
✓ Victim-offender relationship.
✦ Criminal Investigative Decision Making
✓ The actions and inactions of a investigative decision making can illuminate areas of oversight and error.
✓ Identifying evidentiary oversight (latent evidence) and evidentiary tunnel vision (ignored evidence).
✓ Identification of biases.
✓ Effective cross-examination questioning
✦ Police Conduct Analysis
✓ Decision making.
✓ Use of force.
✓ Analysis of compliance or deviation from protocols, policies, standards and best practices.
✦ Comprehensive Forensic Case Analysis
✓ Provide straightforward, evidence-based solutions to equivocal or complex forensic problems, thereby providing context to evidence, crime events, and investigative activity
✓ A very effective area of my consultancy is assisting counsel with assembling comprehensive discovery of evidence.
‣ Knowing what to look for is key. If you don’t ask for it, they won’t offer it to you.
‣ Understand that you will automatically get a fraction of the results of a criminal investigation no matter how comprehensive your discovery request is. You will never get everything!
‣ The Government does not reveal its weaknesses! They are cleverly concealed between the lines, conspicuously omitted, downplayed, or blamed on others.
‣ It often shocks people what they did not know - and what they would never have known, were it not for a trained eye and experienced perspective.
‣ Many parts make the whole. In my experience, more often than not those missing parts are critical to unlocking the truth and identifying reasonable doubt.
✓ Help navigate through fluid, dynamic and often unpredictable circumstances, particularly as new evidence is discovered and excuses and explanations begin to cloud truth.
‣ Identify and interpret the meaning of evidence in light of chaotic and overwhelming instances where material often lies hidden (latent) among the confusion.
✓ Identify and understand ambiguous, vague elements of a case
‣ In every case the defense receives only part of the story; some cases need assistance with discovery, while others require a more persuasive forensic perspective. I often say that without the services a skilled forensic analysis you will never know what you never knew.
✓ Help reconstitute the evidentiary perspective of a case. This includes identifying and tempering problem areas.
✓ Assist with trial preparation, and other technical aspects of the process including jury selection, voir dire questions, witness preparation, questioning of experts, and other relevant tasks.
How it gets done
✦ As an expert I will compile a functionally effective Strategic Defense Action Plan & Case Strategy, with recommendations tailored to a specific set of circumstances that are fact driven, accounting for relevant, unique litigation challenges, evidence issues, personalities of participants, and defendant characteristics.
✦ My strategy does not suffer from what afflicts most experts:
✓ Ignorance of the laws driving the issue and the resulting irrelevance of the assistance
✓ Intrusion into matters of law, including that of the ultimate issue of guilt
✓ Insufficiency, (reliance on inadequate information on which to base an opinion)
✓ Incredibility (speculation, rather than data-based information)
✦ My experience is conspicuously successful. I do not hurl ideas at the wall to see if anything sticks. What works for one case may not be the best approach for another, but my results are consistently effective. Years of successful practical experience and in the reality of the courtroom have yielded best practices. This truth eludes even veteran criminal investigators who often ignore investigative principles in favor of immediate goal-oriented satisfaction. Seeing a bigger picture and recognizing forensic implications of case facts and evidence is a unique skill-set that requires nuance, subtle circumstantial recognition, and skilled metacognitive competence.
Forensic Criminology as a Science
Forensic criminology is both an academic and applied discipline that is not ordinarily within the layperson’s recognition. It requires a significant amount of advanced, specialized knowledge to understand and apply it. A forensic criminologist is able to testify as an expert witness. The expert forensic criminologist employs advanced meta-cognitive critical thinking skills at a specific set of forensic facts and circumstances, developed in concordance with relevant education, training, knowledge, experience, and expertise to evaluate facts, circumstances, and behaviors objectively and dispassionately. Further, a skilled forensic criminologist will assess the information or methodology to establish the merit or worth of evidence under consideration1.
A forensic criminologist can testify about any forensic matter that can be evaluated scientifically, or a forensic matter in which he or she has sufficient practical experience, training, and knowledge to render an informed, expert opinion. The forensic criminologist aims to clarify ambiguous, equivocal, and confusing facts. A forensic criminologist will apply criminological analysis to a particular set of facts or circumstances using appropriate methodologies and generally accepted investigative practices and procedures. In the absence of specific policy and procedures a “best practices” standard is applied. The forensic criminologist employs theory in an applied manner utilizing case based knowledge and experience, focusing on the practical as opposed to theoretical2. Findings and opinions are based upon evidentiary analysis and case facts are amenable to objective scrutiny and, where possible, systematic testing consistent with the scientific method.
Criminology is the scientific study of crime and criminals. Forensic criminology is a behavioral and forensic science characterized by the integration of material from many sub-disciplines including forensic science, criminal investigation, criminalistics, forensic psychology, victimology, sociology, crime reconstruction, criminal profiling, and more. Criminology includes the construction of theories or models that allow for a better understanding of criminal behavior and that permit the development of strategies intended to address the problem of crime. Theories, which are interrelated propositions that attempt to describe, explain, predict and ultimately control some class of events, acquire explanatory power from inherent logical consistency and are tested by how well they can describe and predict reality and how well they can factually describe criminal events in the past.
By adhering to the scientific method wherever possible, a scientific criminological approach will include the formation of testable hypotheses through attempts at falsification. This approach is amenable to objective scrutiny and systematic testing and is advanced through:
Systematic collection of related facts
Emphasis on availability and application of scientific method
Existence of general laws, rules, policies, and academic discourse through practical application
- Acceptance in the scientific or professional community
- Emphasis of a worthwhile subject in need of independent study
- Ability to replicate the findings
While criminology is regularly subjected to each of these, there is also a fair amount of common sense and reasoning involved. There are peer-reviewed scholarly journals that discuss forensic criminology, and the practice has long been accepted in the forensic community as an authentic discipline.
The goal of an event reconstruction is to determine what happened during the commission of a crime and often, what did not. A crime event reconstruction is a systematic process of properly recognizing evidence and arriving at an opinion about a specific event or set of circumstances based upon the available evidence, utilizing a component of experience that is born of common sense logic, training, education knowledge, and forensic ability acquired through practical experience. A forensic event analysis requires the entire body of evidence for a comprehensive evaluation, including subtle human interpretation. Humans must interpret evidence and exercise judgment. Humans have inherent limitations including the failure to recognize when they are wrong. Thus, successful relevant experience is critical in achieving accuracy, revealing truth, and challenging flawed investigative assumptions and conclusions.
An experienced, knowledgeable forensic criminologist will render an objective evaluation of the totality of the evidence and base findings upon facts, evidence and reliable criminological principles. While evidence analysis is static, crime is dynamic. A forensic analysis provides context of the body of evidence, which in turn provides relevance to assist the trier of fact where their inherent limitations exist. The forensic criminologist does not perform a confirmatory function. Although the forensic criminologist adheres to the rigors of science, just like the conclusions of an archaeologist, there is no true standard from which to compare the results.
Forensic science pioneer Luke May (1936), noted “the eyes see in things only what they look for, and they look only for what is already in the mind. Often the most significant piece of evidence is overlooked or misinterpreted because someone has jumped to a premature conclusion”. Technology has changed significantly since Dr. May made this observation but the social cognition errors made by criminal investigators remain the same. In arriving at decisions about evidence, criminal investigators do not always employ judgment about evidence that is accurate.
Difficult and complex circumstances that lend themselves to human error expose the frailty of the decision-making process when certain information is withheld or mistaken. Together they often comprise social cognition errors that can be fatal to legal probable cause. Therefore, it is not only what the investigator found out, but also how they found it that is important, and can lead to reasonable doubt. As human beings law enforcement officers are as susceptible to biases, heuristics, schema and emotion that can color attitude and interfere with information processing and decision-making3.
Chisum, W.J. & Turvey, B, (2007) Crime Reconstruction, Elsevier Academic Press, Boston, MA
Petherick, W., Turvey, B., & Ferguson, C. (2010) Forensic Criminology, Elsevier Academic Press, Boston, MA
Wallace, W. (2015). The Effect of Confirmation Bias on Criminal Investigative Decision Making (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest/UMI (Manuscript No. 15885)