The research topic selected for the research is “How Effective is Forensic Science in Aid of Crime Scene Investigation”. The aim of the present research is to study the effectiveness of forensic science techniques within the field of forensic investigation, and the acceptability of these techniques within the legal framework. There are a number of techniques that are available in forensic science that aid in criminal investigations. Some of these techniques come within the categories of: DNA or forensic biology, forensic toxicology, forensic anthropology, forensic pathology, to name but a few. These techniques are scientific and the technology and science behind these techniques are sophisticated and seen to be highly regarded and influential in jury trials. Therefore, it can be said that forensic results and science play a very important role in the criminal justice system.
For the purpose of this study, the effectiveness of forensic science within the criminal justice system is not viewed merely from the perspective of the level of dependency of the judicial outcome of a criminal trial on the forensic science. Rather, effectiveness is seen from the perspective of ability of forensic science to arrive at the correct link between the offence and offender, or in other words efficacy of forensic science in not leading to wrongful convictions. For this reason, the research focusses on miscarriage of justice cases.
The topic of research relates the effectiveness of forensic science within crime scene investigation to the criminal justice system, because the effectiveness of forensic science is seen in the context of the outcomes of criminal justice process.
The investigation of the crime scene is the most important aspect of criminal investigation. The primary crime scene is the physical place where the crime has occurred originally and as such crime scenes may differ from crime to crime (Mooney, 2014). A secondary crime scene is the physical place where some other evidence related to the crime is uncovered. For instance, this may be a place where the victim’s body is found although the actual death may have occurred elsewhere. The task of the forensic team is to assess the crime scene and recognise, collect and preserve the evidence that is found in the crime scene (Mooney, 2014, p. 7).
The task of the forensic experts is an essential part of the investigation into the crime, as well as the prosecution process. As such, forensic science and the criminal justice process are closely aligned in the common objective of linking the offence to the offender. The forensic scientist helps in retrieving the evidence that leads to the establishment of the guilt that must be ultimately decided by the criminal justice system. However, the question arises: how effective is forensic science in crime scene investigation? The question arises because research shows that despite the advances in the science and technology of forensics, at times, forensic science leads to incorrect results, which may lead to a wrongful conviction and miscarriage of justice.
In the recent period, there has been a lot of improvement in the fields of forensics and DNA technology and these advancements have had an impact on the criminal justice system as well. This impact is seen in two ways: firstly, access to new scientific and forensic techniques gives a better chance to the criminal justice system to convict the person responsible for the commission of the crime; and secondly, in cases where a person has already been convicted, the forensic techniques and processes can help those wrongly convicted by leading to an exoneration of guilt. In this way, the advancements in forensic science has made it possible for people wrongly convicted of crimes to get reprieve. At the same time, these cases throw a negative light on the effectiveness of the forensic science, the fallacies of which may have led to the wrongful conviction in the first place.
The research focusses on answering the research question with the help of a literature review and case study method. As such, the research in conducted with a qualitative approach. The following section discusses the research methodology involved in the conducting of the research.
Research is a process, which involves a systematic and methodological enquiry relating to a specific area of study (Collis & Hussey, 2009). The initial ideas of the researcher may be abstract but with the help of a carefully formulated research methodology, the researcher can turn these abstract ideas into specific queries and by following the systematic process of research, the researcher may find the data, the analysis of which leads to some answers for the queries. As research process is methodological, specific research methodology and research design are required for the structuring of the research.
The two primary research approaches deductive and inductive approaches. In the deductive approach, the researcher moves from theory to case or from general to specific. In this approach, researcher starts applies a general theory to a specific case or context as per the following process: (a) start with a theory; (b) develop a hypothesis; (c) collect observations related to the hypothesis; and (d) confirm the theory (Perrin, 2015, p. 81). The inductive approach does not start with the theory, rather it moves towards the theory by following the process: (a) observe some phenomena; (b) collect data; and (c) data may lead to a theory (Collis & Hussey, 2009).
The present research involves a deductive approach, where the researcher has raised a research question and hypothesis regarding the effectiveness of forensic science in criminal justice outcomes. The researcher is not seeking to observe the data in order to create a theory. The researcher aims to collect data through a literature review in order to see whether it conforms with the accepted theory, which is, that forensic science may not always be effective in leading to the desired outcomes in the criminal justice system and may in fact also lead to miscarriages of justice.
The research adopts a qualitative approach, which is to be distinguished from a quantitative approach. At the outset, it is pertinent to mention that there are three kinds of research approaches: qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods. Research design can be described as “types of inquiry within qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches that provide specific direction for procedures in a research design” (Creswell, 2013, p. 12). The researcher may choose any of the research approaches within his design. As the present research is being conducted into the effectiveness of forensic science methods in crime scene investigation, either quantitative or qualitative approaches could have been selected.
Quantitative research, as the name signifies is based on quantified or numeric data, and qualitative research relates to research where non-numeric data is used (Creswell, 2013, p. 44). Therefore, qualitative approach is more subjective in nature, and quantitative approach is objective (Opoku, Ahmed, & Akotia, 2016). As far as the inductive and deductive processes are concerned both can be used in quantitative and qualitative research (Collis & Hussey, 2009). Therefore, ultimately the research objectives can guide the researcher as to the selection of the research approach.
The present research uses a qualitative approach because the objective of the researcher was to conduct an insightful research into the miscarriage of justice cases, where despite the use of forensic science, wrong conclusions were drawn relating an innocent person to the commission of a crime. A quantitative approach would have seen the researcher focussing on the numeric data concerning the same question, where the researcher may have considered the number of miscarriage of justice cases in a given time period and conducted a statistical analysis of the data. However, the research sought to focus on cases which demonstrate the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the forensic science techniques in leading to convictions of offenders. There have also been cases where despite the conviction been brought about due to application of forensic techniques, such convictions were later found to be miscarriages of justice. These cases demonstrate that even forensic science techniques may lead to wrongful convictions and are in such cases ineffective. At the same time, it is important to note that the effectiveness of forensic methods in crime scene investigation, is gauged from the legal impact of the method and its reception by the court and the jury.
There are many advantages of conducting a qualitative research. Qualitative research has a flexibility in formulating the research design, which is not allowed under the more rigid quantitative approach. Qualitative research is not based on previously fixed methods or hypotheses, which is researcher is absolutely bound to follow in the conduct of his research (Willis & Jost, 2007, pp. 53-54).
There may also be some disadvantages of qualitative research. Qualitative research being subjective in nature, it is difficult to establish reliability and validity of the data (Perrin, 2015). Qualitative approach may have a limited scope because of the data collection methods. Greater subjectivity in research may be responsible for researcher bias in data collection and analysis. Qualitative research results may be doubted because it is difficult to achieve precise results in such research. It is difficult to replicate qualitative research and generalise the findings and results. Finally, qualitative research may seem to be unsystematic as compared to quantitative research (Perrin, 2015).
Regardless of the above mentioned drawbacks or weaknesses of qualitative research, there are methods by which the findings of the qualitative research can be strengthened. The findings of the qualitative research can be validated through credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability of the data and findings (Guba & Lincoln, 1989). Through transferability, the researcher can show the generalisation of the findings under different contexts or settings, making the findings credible through testing under different settings (Guba & Lincoln, 1989). For this, the researcher must ensure that he clearly describes the context and the central assumptions of the research, setting a framework for the transferability of the findings. Dependability of the data is seen in the fact of it being observable time and again. Finally, when the findings are corroborated or confirmed by other studies then the element of confirmability is also satisfied (Guba & Lincoln, 1989).
With regard to the analysis of qualitative data, there are a number of methods, any of which can be used for the purpose of analysis of data. These methods may include noting patterns and themes, clustering of patterns and themes into groups, making contrasts and comparisons within the themes and building a logical chain of evidence can all be used for the purpose of data analysis (Miles & Huberman, 1994).
Finally, it may be pertinent to consider the mixed methods research as well. The development of the mixed methods research is resultant of the desire of researchers to include some elements of both qualitative and quantitative approach (Creswell J. , 1994). Mixed methods research does not follow a rigid rule of using theory. In mixed methods research, theory can be placed as a framework for guiding the questions and the hypothesis of the study and can be presented as literature review, a theoretical framework, or as a theory that guides the researcher to explain the subject under investigation (Creswell J. W., 2013).
The present research did not adopt a mixed methods research because the researcher has chosen to collect data for the research predominantly through the literature review method. There is no need to conduct a statistical research or to lean on quantitative approach for drawing a representative sample for the research as the research does not involve use of participants.
The research uses literature review within a descriptive research design. Being a literature review, research will be conducted on the basis of secondary resources like books, articles in journals and databases. Descriptive research is a useful method of obtaining information, without having to test or verify the information (Monsen & Horn, 2008, p. 5). Once a well- focused research question is devised, descriptive research can be used to answer it (Monsen & Horn, 2008, p. 5). The research methodology would allow the researcher to gather information about the existing conditions (Sevilla, Ochave, Punsalan, Regala, & Uriarte, 2007, p. 94).
As the objective of this research is to answer the question: “How effective is forensic science in aid of crime scene investigation”, the literature review will consider primary and secondary sources that pertain to the principal question involved in the research. As such, the literature review will consider cases which demonstrate the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the forensic science techniques in leading to convictions of offenders. However, there have also been cases where despite the conviction been brought about due to application of forensic techniques, such convictions were later found to be miscarriages of justice. These cases demonstrate that even forensic science techniques may lead to wrongful convictions and are in such cases ineffective. At the same time, it is important to note that the effectiveness of forensic methods in crime scene investigation, is gauged from the legal impact of the method and its reception by the court and the jury. Therefore, in that sense, the techniques are effective. The literature review will also identify some factors that may be commonly involved in compromising the efficacy of forensic science within criminal justice system.
The literature review will be useful method in the research because it can lead to uncovering the factors that may compromise the effectiveness of forensic science in achieving the desired results within the criminal justice system. These factors may lead to the compromise in the ability of forensic science to be completely effective in arriving at correct results and thereby lead to miscarriage of justice. Literature review may help to uncover the factors and cases which show that forensic science is not an absolute or perfect science and within the science itself and that there is room for error in science as well. There may also be some administrative or external factors (external to the science) that may compromise the efficacy of the forensic science and lead to wrongful convictions. These can also be identified with the help of a literature review.
The case study method is also involved in the research as specific cases demonstrating miscarriage of justice are to be focussed on in the research. A case is defined as an object of study (Vaus & Vaus, 2001, p. 220). A case study is defined as an in-depth inquiry into a topic or phenomenon within its real-life setting (Yin, 2009). Case study research is best used when there is a difficulty to separate the phenomenon under study and the context where the phenomenon is studied or where the boundaries between the two are not recognised (Yin, 2009). Case studies are used in most types of research and researchers. Case studies may be used for descriptive and explanatory purposes in addition to its exploratory purposes (Yin, 2009). A case study may involve study of an individual, an organisation, a decision of the court, or a situation. Collecting and analysing information about the case involves an underpinning of theory (Vaus & Vaus, 2001, p. 221). Case studies can also be descriptive, where the description highlights certain aspects of the case, although all aspects may not be described (Vaus & Vaus, 2001).
As an extended literature review, this work involves secondary research methods. The research strategy involved will include searching for papers both manually as well as electronically. Journals in both print as well as electronic formats will be referred to. Databases will also be used for the purpose of generating information that can become subject matter of this extended literature review. Some of these journals and database are named here:
Research methodology helps the researcher to structure his research by using the chosen research approaches and design for the purpose of designing the research structure for obtaining the research aims and objectives.
The aim of the research is to study the effectiveness of forensic science in aid of crime scene investigation. The research uses a deductive and qualitative approach with the methods of literature review and case study.
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