25 Apr 2022


Impact of Forensics on Criminal Procedure

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Forensics entail using science and technology to detect criminal activity and establish the culprit thereof. Jurisprudence in criminal cases has come a long way from the traditional days when torture and even witchcraft was part of the judicial system. With the advent of modern civilization came the adversarial judicial system (Murphy, 2013). This entails a scenario where the prosecutor on one hand and the defendant on the other would attempt to persuade a jury on one peers to arrive at a decision on the guilt or innocence of the defendant respectively. At the beginning, this system was only based on sworn witness statements rarely supported by physical evidence such as documents or objects. The advent of fingerprinting introduced the use of forensics into criminal procedure, which only played the part of collaborating oral evidence by witnesses (Murphy, 2013). With the advancement and proliferation of technology however, advanced forensic tools have been introduced to judicial criminal procedure almost to an extent of replacing the traditional oral evidence by witnesses.

Forensic Investigative Techniques Enable Development of Adversarial Cases

Contrary to popular belief by laymen, criminal courts under the adversarial system practiced in America are courts of law not justice (Epstein, 2016). Laws are more important than facts in criminal cases. Generally, it is the obligation of the prosecutor to establish a prima facie case against the defendant. This prima facie case is then expected to survive defense hearing so that the defendant can be convicted with the onus of proof being beyond any reasonable doubt. The prosecutor uses inter alia forensic evidence to establish his case while contemporaneously, the defence uses the same to block the prosecutor from establishing the case. Further, the defense counsel can also use forensics to establish defenses such as an alibi, disproving or witnesses or introduction of secondary suspects (Epstein, 2016). 

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Criminal cases vary exponentially from one another thus necessitating different forms of forensic tools by both the prosecution and the defence. When a defendant is facing fraud cases, the evidence necessary will mainly include documents and money trails. The prosecutor will seek to present forensic evidence showing for example that a transaction originated from a certain computer (Epstein, 2016). The defense may use forensic evidence to disprove the contention or show that the computer was remotely accessed. Rape cases for example may see the prosecutor use DNA evidence to proof that sex took place between the plaintiff and defendant. The defense may use recorded voice or email transcripts to try and prove that sex was consensual. Weapon based crimes involve ballistic testing to show that a certain bullet came from or did not come from a certain gun (Epstein, 2016). All these are factors that can seldom be proven using the viva voce evidence or a witness only, hence the necessity of forensic evidence by both prosecutor and defense attorneys. 

How Forensic Science is better than Traditional Methods

The main form of traditional admission of evidence is through viva voce evidence presented by sworn witnesses on the fear of perjury. Witnesses can lie under oath and also even genuine witnesses can be wrong (Leo, 2009). This can easily lead to the conviction of an innocent person or the acquittal of a guilty person. According to Blackstone's formulation however, the latter is better than the former. On the other hand, forensic evidence is absolute and in many cases incontrovertible. Further, when forensic evidence has a potential for being false, the same potential is well known with its probability being accurately predicted. For example, a good DNA sample will give almost 99% accuracy level. The same applies to ballistic testing as each gun leaves a unique signature on every bullet fired (Fisher, 2016). In this regard therefore, forensic evidence eliminates the potential for bias, error or even mischief associated with the traditional witness evidence. 

Whether Courts rely more on Forensic Evidence than Other Forms of Information 

Damon Thibodeaux is an example of a convict who had all witness evidence, including his own through a confession pointing towards his guilt for the rape and murder of a 14 year of girl. In 2012 however, Damon was acquitted after DNA evidence clearly showed his innocence in the case. In acquitting him, the court trusted forensic evidence more than Damon’s own word that he raped and killed the girl. Similarly, forensic evidence, which in most cases is dubbed as expert evidence is given more credibility by courts managed either by juries or judges than other forms of evidence. This includes even sworn statements of very credible witnesses. For example, if credible witnesses allege a fact that is expressly disproved by irrefutable and well-defended DNA evidence, the DNA evidence will stand. It is however worthy of notice that not all forensic evidence is infallible (Murphy, 2013). Indeed, many of the people being vindicated using contemporary forensic science had been convicted using traditional forms of forensic science such as hair and fiber examination or bullet batch testing. The courts therefore test forensic evidence on a case by case basis but when the forensic evidence is established, the court will rely on the evidence above all other forms of information (Murphy, 2013). 

Arguments to Jury for Forensic Science over Witness Testimony 

The main argument to a jury for forensic science is that science is objective and an absolute. Therefore, forensics does not favor any party or contain any bias. Further, in the case science is wrong, the same can be proven through the use of science. A ballistic test can be confirmed or disproved through further ballistic testing so are most other forms of forensic evidence (Fisher, 2016). Further, most crimes are circumspectly conducted in the absence of witnesses leaving forensics as the only reliable proof. With regard to witness statements, each and every jury can remember at least one incident in life when they were wrong about something important. Therefore, the fact that someone is truthful and honest does not mean that what they are saying is factual. A witness can be operating on a false notion and therefore honestly share a fallacy. Over and above this, partisan interests will always influence belief thus increasing the propensity for error (Leo, 2009). Finally, through malice, a witness can fabricate a lie about a defendant and cause the lie to ring true in court leading to wrongful conviction. Witness statement and other forms of information are important in court but when they contradict forensic science, the jury should take the side of forensic science (Leo, 2009). 

Technology is gradually taking over the world and the same is also happening to criminal procedure from a judicial perspective. Advanced forms of forensics keep on being generated and can carefully piece together happenings that no one has witnessed. Further, forensics are also able to accurately and scientifically proof facts that can confirm or contradict oral evidence. Whereas oral evidence is still a reliable tool in evidence presentation, the propensity for error and/or malice greatly affects its reliability. This is the reason why many a convict has been vindicated by forensics and had their convictions reversed. Similarly, forensics have been used to convict many a defendant even in the absence of solid witnesses. It should however be noted that forensic evidence is not absolutely infallible and each case should be considered on its own merit. 


Epstein, J. (2016). Looking backwards at old cases: When science moves forward.  Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 106 (1), 49-58. 

Fisher, B. A. (2016). Moving toward new requirements for the admissibility of evidence.  Forensic Science 7 (3-4), 51-53 

Leo R. A. (2009). False confessions: Causes, consequences, and implications. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 37 , 332-343 

Murphy, E. (2013). The mismatch between twenty-first-century forensic evidence and our antiquated criminal justice system.  S. Cal. L. Rev. 87 , 633-672. 

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