The Forensic Casebook

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Ngaire E. Genge authored a book called, The Forensic Casebook. The text provides a comprehensive look into the field of forensic science. The author uses research in the field, combined with real-life stories and pictures, to educate the reader about crime scene investigations.

The first chapter of the book introduces the reader to “the scene of the crime” (Genge 1). The author makes a distinction between the “scene of the crime” and the “crime scene,” where the latter relates specifically to the physical area being scrutinized for evidence (Genge 1). The author also explains that the “crime scene” extends beyond the actual location of the crime, and also includes other related areas, such as planning/staging areas (Genge 3). For those new to the profession, a comprehensive overview is provided regarding the primary obligation of the first responders to “protect the scene” (Genge 5). The first responder’s other responsibilities (such as the initiation of safety procedures, provision of emergency care and securing evidence) are also reviewed in detail by the author (Genge 5-10). According to the text, forensic investigators must also navigate through the unique challenges presented by “special locations” for crime scenes, including bodies of water (Genge 16). The final portion of the chapter reviews the myth surrounding the occupation of a “Crime Scene Investigator,” and discusses the roles of the various professionals involved in crime scene investigation, and how those investigations are handled from unit to unit and department to department (Genge 17).

The next four chapters provide an overview of the forensic investigations at the scene or, as the author calls it, “working the scene” (Genge 21). Chapter 2 begins with a discussion of the evidence, and “friction ridges” (or fingerprints) in particular (Genge 21). The author explains the important role that fingerprints play in forensic investigations, as well as the collection and identification of these prints (Genge 21-58). Impression evidence, another important tool in forensic investigations, relates to “two-dimensional and three-dimensional forms,” such as outlines of shoeprints/footprints on a wooden floor, or impressions of shoeprints/footprints in the snow (Genge 58). These are important because, like fingerprints, these prints are also unique to the individual, and provide valuable clues for criminalist investigators (Genge 59). The author also examines blood splatter patterns in this chapter (Genge 98). The size, pattern and angle of drops each provide important information in a crime scene, such as the proximity of the assailant to the victim (Genge 100). Forensic scientists closely examine these splatters to help recreate a scene and a pattern of events (Genge 101).

Other crucial pieces of information may be obtained from firearms and firearm evidence. The author reviews weaponry in significant detail in the text (Genge 102). Throughout the text, the author makes reference to a popular fictional television shows, and dissects how they are factually correct, or incorrect (Genge 75; 101). This is especially true in the next two sections relating to forensic entomology and forensic botany and zoology (Genge 124; 125). As the author explains (and as was featured in an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) insects can provide clues for forensic scientists, including helping to establish a time of death based on the maturity of the insects found in the corpse (Genge 124). Insects can also provide clues to connect an assailant to a crime scene, based on bug bites from insects germane to a particular area (Genge 131). Forensic botany and zoology provide similar clues regarding time and location of criminal activity (Genge 135). However, it is the human body itself that provides a host of additional information to forensic investigators.

Chapter 3 provides an overview of the human body and the victim (or victims) (Genge 142). Blood types and DNA can be used to either eliminate or identify suspects (Genge 142). Blood can also be used to place a victim at a scene, even when only trace amounts are left behind (Genge 146). DNA evidence can be obtained from hair, semen, blood, and even amniotic fluid, and are all useful identifying the genetic makeup of a particular person (Genge 147). However, one of the most widely recognized methods of identification is the application of forensic odontology, or dentistry (Genge 158). Dental records and teeth have long been used in forensic science to identify people (Genge 158). Certain types of DNA may also be extracted from teeth and bones, like mitochondrial DNA (Genge 157). The next section on autopsy reviews the “policies and procedures that guide the medical examiner and forensic scientists through [the] process that should allow them to gather the most useful information” (Genge 171). Autopsies may provide information such as the identity of the decedent, the cause of death, and the manner of death (Genge 173). However, yet another aspect of working the scene may also provide additional clues for investigators.

Chapter 4 explores the two unique crime scenes – bombs and explosives and computer crimes (Genge 195; 201). Forensic scientists use the site of the explosion, as well as information from the actual bomb (such as wires, batteries and other elements) to identify possible suspects (Genge 200). Investigators frequently enlist the aid of a photographer or videographer to compile additional information regarding people at the scene (Genge 199). However, as difficult as it may seem to comb through evidence destroyed by an explosion, the author suggests that the examination of computer crimes (and the related digital information) may be even more difficult. Computer Crime includes a range of information from digital cameras, to information stored on hard drives (Genge 201). The investigator is often challenged with accessing encrypted information, or recovering deleted data (Genge 206). However, accessing information from any of these areas, in any form, generally proves especially challenging for the forensic investigator.

The fifth and final chapter in the book reviews the contributions of other personnel to the crime solving process (Genge 209). Animal examiners include K-9 teams, but this area of the science is rapidly expanding, and is expanding into a larger areas of investigation (Genge 209). The text advises readers on what to expect for persons interested in pursuing this field (Genge 214). The author also discusses the important cross-sectional contributions of forensic photographers in this section (Genge 216). A more comprehensive review of this discipline, as covered in the text, is included in the second section of this paper.

The book culminates in a review of the various career paths available to individuals interested in pursuing a career in forensic investigation. The appendices review the job qualifications for a multitude of jobs related to the field, and provides the qualifications, experience and training required for each (Genge 247). Also noteworthy is the author provides information regarding what kind of working conditions someone working in a particular area may expect, which would be helpful to anyone making a decision as to a career path (Genge 247). Lastly, the book provides information regarding the wide array of academic institutions that offer forensic education programs (Genge 294). This is also particularly useful for anyone contemplating a career in forensic science.

One of the most interesting disciplines of forensic science discussed in the text is the area of forensic photography. As explained by the author, forensic photographers are specialists who are necessary in every area of forensic investigation (Genge 216). The field of forensic photography is also growing rapidly, and continuously evolving so that photographers may provide the best and most accurate information for investigators.

Forensic photographers use a variety of tools to accomplish their work. Photographers begin with a selection of cameras (such as 35 mm, Polaroid or digital), and a selection of lenses (such as normal, wide-angle or close up) (Genge 225). They also use other accessories, including filters to enhance colors, and flash to eliminate shadow (Genge 225). Other tools, such as laser sighting systems, ensure that the camera is properly aligned when taking pictures (Genge 218). Flip-down sticks also aid the photographer in establishing the proper distance from the subject (Genge 218). To overcome challenges associated with Photoshop, or other picture correcting software, one photographer has even created a “lazy box,” which includes color rendition, directional and measurement guides to guarantee a quality finished product (Genge 219). Together, all of these tools aid the forensic photographer in their finished product.

Often times the photographer’s finished product is introduced into evidence in a court of law. Forensic photographers must be mindful of this possibility, and incorporate certain guidelines into their photography process. For example, the photographer must never try and manipulate pictures of the scene to elicit emotions from a jury, such as including images of a child’s doll in a crime scene (Genge 227). Further, the imagery of the doll would only be included if it was relevant to the crime scene in the first place (Genge 227). Similarly, images of by-standers or “grieving relatives” arriving to a crime scene should not be included in the photographs (Genge 227). Lastly, all photographs must be “free from distortions, and must not misrepresent the scene or objects in it” (Genge 227). This is important both for the physical images featured in pictures, but also for “doctored” images processed through software applications like Photoshop (Genge 219). If the photographer is cognizant of these restrictions, the photographic evidence should withstand any legal scrutiny, and the photographer will have done his/her job well.

Work Cited

Genge, Ngaire. The forensic casebook: the science of crime scene investigation. New York: Ballantine Books, 2002.