The Definition of Forensic Science

Learn About the Role of Forensics in a Lawsuit

Forensic scientist inspecting toolkit at crime scene, police tape in foreground
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The Latin word "forensis" means "public discussion or debate." Combine forensics and science and you get the practical application of science to matters of debate, which in modern times translates to the law.

Forensic Science Definition

Forensic science can prove the guilt or innocence of the defendant in criminal law, and it can help to resolve a broad spectrum of legal issues in civil actions through the identification, analysis, and evaluation of physical and other evidence.

An accurate forensic science definition extends beyond the traditional concept of science and may include the areas of accounting, psychological testing and interpretation of data and other evidence.

Examples of Forensic Science in Law

Forensics can include DNA analysisfingerprinting, autopsies, pathology, and toxicology in the scientific sphere, all of which may be used to determine the cause of death and to link a suspect to a crime. Forensic scientists and law enforcement use cutting-edge scientific techniques to preserve and examine evidence in a process known as "chain of command." It ensures that evidence is pure and has not had an opportunity to become tainted through mishandling, and meticulous records can substantiate this, showing exactly who was in possession of it at any given time.

Forensic science can also involve an analysis of electronic or digital media -- think wiretaps and recovering "erased" information from computer hard drives.

It may mean an exhaustive reconstruction of business or financial records to track sources of hidden income or expenses or psychological profiles and evaluations of those involved in a lawsuit.

What Does a Forensic Scientist Do?

A forensic scientist is typically charged with much more than just digging into the facts of a case and substantiating or disproving them based on an interpretation of the evidence.

Strong record-keeping skills are crucial because he will often be called upon to testify to his findings in court. He is typically required to submit written reports to the court and opposing counsel as well, detailing the nature of his findings and his testimony before trial. These reports can be extensive and complex. He must be able to demonstrate how he arrived at his conclusions.

A forensic scientist is an "expert witness" at trial. He isn't a party to the incident that gave rise to a lawsuit or criminal trial, and he does not testify to the facts of the case but rather his interpretation of them. He has the training and credentials to pose an opinion regarding various aspects of the case. The opposing party reserves the right to cross-examine and challenge the forensic scientist's findings, such as because he may have processed physical evidence incorrectly.

Is It the Right Job for You?

A career in forensic science requires at least one college degree, most commonly in the field of forensics that the scientist wishes to pursue. Pathologists must first become doctors. An accounting degree is typically necessary for cases that involve financial analyses. A secondary degree specifically in forensics may help you get your foot in the door.

If you have an inquiring mind and like to advocate for the truth, this may be the career for you.