Edmond Locard: Pioneering Criminalist

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Criminal Justice encompasses many different chambers of study and one very important one is that of forensic studies. Forensics has revolutionized the manner in which the legal process has worked over the last 100 years. Many individuals worked together over the last century to bring together what we have as the modern forensic process. French criminalist Edmond Locard was a man who is remembered today for being one of the early pioneers in this field. Locard contributed dozens of articles, original thoughts and concepts during his time as a criminalist. He pioneered ideas like the exchange principle and fingerprinting, just to name a few. The late 1800s saw a talented writer create crime stories that would influence forensics in a major way, and his main character was the beloved forensic genius, Sherlock Holmes. While fiction writers were attempting to weave tales centered on criminals and crime, Locard was being branded as a Sherlock Holmes-like individual in reality. His attention to detail and insistence on merging the physical and life sciences with the social sciences created works that were at that time influential and continue to be influential in our modern age.

Edmond Locard was born in France in 1877 in the city of Lyon. Locard received his education in France, earning a Ph.D. as well as passing the bar exam. Locard was interested in the merging of legal matters and medicine and the sciences. This was also a focus during his education. Locard began his use of this education and passion during WWI when he was a medical examiner (Petherick, Turvey & Ferguson, 2010). During that time he used the uniforms of soldiers to determine cause and locations of individuals’ deaths. This practice would later be seen in Locard Exchange Principle as well. Locard would continue to move down this path when in 1910 the Lyon police department gave him the use of an attic for the purpose of a lab. This would be the first chance Locard would have a space to specifically use for his studies in forensics. From this point in his professional life Locard would go on to open an academy for criminalistics with fellow criminalists and academic professionals. During the same time period Locard also refined the practice from which fingerprinting techniques were derived. His technique would focus on stressing that if 12 specific points on two fingerprints matched then it was cause to believe that it was a positive match; this was pointed out in Forensic Science Central’s work on Forensic Criminology (Petherick, Turvey, and Ferguson). All of these milestones and achievements were poignant and important, not only to Locard himself but to the greater field and study of criminalistics.

Despite all of the aforementioned accomplishments in his educational and professional life, the most significant achievement was his Exchange Principle. With this principle, Locard created a concept that would stand out and get recognized immensely. The Exchange Principle believed that every single criminal act left an “invisible: trace that could be measured and used by criminalists (Bisbing 1). There would always be some level of trace that was left behind, despite the level of attention paid to it by the criminal. Specifically, in a violent crime, Locard felt that it would be impossible for a trace to not be left behind. Understanding this meant that the burden would be on the hands of the professionals in criminal justice, forensic science, and policing to come together to find this trace. Locard strongly believed that using this trace could lead one to link a suspect to specific locations and individuals (Chisum and Turvey 1). This contact would go a long way towards linking an individual with a crime, even when no witness was present to attest to it. The trace would attest to this connection and link and would be as strong, if not stronger that only having the testimony of a witness. The subjective world of courtrooms and law during Locard’s time was riddled with witness testimonies and other non-physical evidence as the deciding factor on cases. Locard’s principles would work towards adding to the legal process by introducing forensic evidence in a way that was clear and methodical. That is the hallmark of the Locard Exchange, the ability to rely on the objective parameters of science and medicine in the otherwise subjective legal world of the 1900s.

Locard was influenced by many criminalists who came before him, like Alphonse Bertillon, and he would go on to influence many that came after him. Edmond Locard was a pioneer in the field of criminalists and contributed in a meaningful and lasting way. His work was original and it was evident through this work that he was a talented and forward-thinking professional. His merger of legal concepts with medical ones merged together to advance multiple fields within the social sciences, including criminalistics. The Locard Exchange will continue to be relevant because it is a cornerstone of modern courtroom procedures. During Locard’s own time courts relied on non-physical evidence in courtrooms and that was the direction in which the weights leaned. More and more, as we advance technology and science informs us of the unseen, this balance is changing. Today a courtroom values those physical, unseen, “trace” evidence in a great way. Forensic evidence has even helped to overturn wrongful convictions. I would say so much so, that the weights are in favor of this form of evidence. Many people came together to create, and refine the forensic process as we know it today. Edmond Locard was the man who took the works before him and cultivated them together to create processes and thoughts that were critical and genius.

Works Cited

Bisbing, Richard. “Fractured Patterns: Microscopical Investigation of Real Physical Evidence” Jan. 2004. The Locard Exchange. Web. October 12, 2013 http://www.modernmicroscopy.com/main.asp?article=11

Chisum, Jerry, Turvey, Brent. "Evidence Dynamics: Locard's Exchange Principle & Crime Reconstruction". Journal of Behavioral Profiling, 1.1 (2000). Web. October 12, 2013

Petherick, W.A. Turvey, B.E. Ferguson, C.E. “Forensic Criminology, Edmond Locard”. Forensic Science Central. Web. October 12, 2013. http://forensicsciencecentral.co.uk/edmondlocard.shtml