Forensic science as “risky business”: identifying key risk factors in the forensic process from crime scene to court

Roberta Julian, Dr Sally Kelty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to identify and discuss key risk factors in the use of forensic science in the criminal justice system by adopting a holistic and systemic approach that examines the collection and use of forensic evidence from crime scene to court. Design/methodology/approach – The research on which the paper is based was a mixed-method five-year study of the effectiveness of forensic science in the criminal justice system in Australia using qualitative and quantitative methods. The paper draws on the in-depth analysis of qualitative data from 11 case studies of investigations of serious crime to identify key risk factors in the use of forensic science from crime scene to court. Findings – Six key risk factors in the forensic process from crime scene to court are identified: low level of forensic awareness among first responders; crime scene examiners (CSEs) as technicians rather than professionals; inefficient and/or ineffective laboratory processes; limited forensic literacy among key actors in the criminal justice system; poor communication between key actors in the criminal justice system; and, financial resources not directed at the front end of the forensic process. Overall the findings demonstrate that forensic science is not well embedded in the criminal justice system. Practical implications – The paper suggests that the risks inherent in the current practice of forensic science in the criminal justice system can be reduced dramatically through: forensic awareness training among first responders; the professionalisation of CSEs; continued improvements in efficiency and effectiveness at the laboratory with a focus on timeliness and quality; greater forensic literacy among actors in the criminal justice system; appropriate avenues of communication between agencies, practitioners and policymakers in the criminal justice system; and increased allocation of resources to the front end of the forensic process. Originality/value – By adopting a holistic, systemic approach to the analysis of forensic science in the criminal justice system, and identifying inherent risks in the system, this paper contributes to the emerging body of research on the social processes that impact on the effectiveness of forensic science.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-206
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice
Volume1
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2015

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