Insights into the evaluation of the investigative contribution of forensic science

Sonja Bitzer* 1,2 and Olivier Delémont 1

1 School of Criminal Justice, University of Lausanne, Batochime, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
2 National Institute for Criminalistics and Criminology, Brussels, Belgium

*corresponding author: sonja.bitzer@unil.ch

The effectiveness of forensic science has been challenged by several studies, indicating that it is either scarcely used and thus not relevant or when it is used, its effects on case processing are minor. The majority of the studies focused on an understanding of forensic science as the application of scientific techniques to the matters of court. Consequently, the contribution of forensic science was determined for judicial steps of the criminal justice process, such as suspect arrest, charging or conviction. The proposed remedies for its infrequent use or alleged ineffectiveness focused mainly on technical developments or managerial guidelines.

The objective of our study is to evaluate the use of forensic science in the investigation, as well as the decision leading up to it. Utility of the clue, defined as the added value of information gained by the analysis of the trace, is proposed as a more adequate indicator for the effective and efficient use of forensic science. Similarly is the anticipation of the utility of the clue an appropriate decision factor when choosing which traces to use. Through quantitative and qualitative research methods, robbery cases were studied. Results will be presented, showcasing the contribution of the utility of the clue in the decision-making process when assessing the actual contribution of traces to the investigation, considering the overall information available in the case.

Biography

Sonja Bitzer recently finished her PhD thesis in Forensic Science at the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Lausanne, in Switzerland. Her main interests focus on the understanding of forensic science in different countries and the evaluation of the effectiveness of forensic science in the Criminal Justice Process and the general security context. In September, she started a Post-doc at the National Institute of Criminology and Criminalistics, in Brussels, Belgium, to assess the contribution of forensic advisors and the use of forensic science in major crimes.

The economics and politics of forensic science: A critical reflection on measurement and meaning-making in the audit society

R.Julian

Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies, University of Tasmania

Forensic science has the potential to play an increasingly critical role in the criminal justice system. But can this be demonstrated empirically? This paper reflects on lessons learned from a recently completed five-year Australian Research Council project on the ‘Effectiveness of Forensic Science in the Criminal Justice System’. Intelligence-led policing presupposes a rational, evidence-based and proactive approach to addressing crime. The focus is on crime disruption and crime prevention, moving away from traditional reactive policing strategies and practices. Forensic science can support and enhance this move towards proactive policing by shifting attention to its investigative and intelligence value, whilst not losing sight of its evidentiary value to the courts.  To be effective, this requires a reallocation of resources from the ‘back end’ to the ‘front end’ of a criminal investigation; that is, to the use of forensic science in crime scene examination and police investigations. In times of fiscal crisis and budgetary constraints, the onus is on forensic scientists to ‘sell’ this argument to the decision-makers who allocate criminal justice resources. In short, at a time when effectiveness and efficiency dividends are paramount, forensic scientists need to demonstrate the value for money in such a reallocation of resources. This requires an evidence base and a capacity to translate the evidence into policy. In this paper, the author critically reflects on the challenges experienced by the research team as they attempted to establish this evidence base. The critical analysis focuses on (a) the meaning-making processes inherent in the construction of forensic evidence, (b) the assumptions underlying attempts to ‘measure’ the effectiveness of forensic science, (c) the neoliberal context within which demands for economic analyses are made, and (d) the challenges faced by forensic scientists to be ‘heard’ in the policy-making process. The paper raises issues in relation to both the economics and the politics of forensic science in the context of an audit society.

Biography

Associate Professor Roberta Julian is the founding Director of the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies (TILES). Over the last decade, she has led an innovative program of research in the emerging field of forensic studies/forensic criminology. She was the lead Chief Investigator in a 5 year Australian Research Council Linkage Grant with Victoria Police, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) that was completed in 2014. This project examined the effectiveness of forensic science in the criminal justice system with a focus on police investigations and court outcomes.

The effectiveness of forensic science in the criminal justive system: Measuring the impact of forensic evidence on police investigations & court trials

P.A. Woodman1*, R. Julian2, C. Spiranovic3

1 Victoria Police Forensic Services Department, Victoria Police, VIC 3085, Australia
2 Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies, University of Tasmania, TAS 7001, Australia
3 Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania, TAS 7001, Australia

*corresponding author: pwoodman@utas.edu.au

There is an increasing reliance on forensic science to guide criminal investigations and to assist with achieving just outcomes in the courts. However the provision of forensic services is costly and the demand often exceeds the capacity of forensic laboratories. It is therefore important that forensic science is used to maximum effectiveness. In this study a mixed methods approach is being applied to examine the effectiveness of forensic science in a sample of criminal investigations conducted by Victoria Police.

Firstly, a quantitative analysis is being conducted to produce an empirical assessment of the impact of a selection of forensic disciplines. Databases have been developed that align the results of forensic examinations with the outcomes of police investigations and court trials. The significance of apparent relationships between forensic evidence and criminal justice outcomes will be statistically tested.

In the second phase, police investigators are being surveyed. The aim is to capture the perceived value that forensic science has provided to the processing of a sample of cases (i.e. what benefits did the investigators expect forensic evidence would add and what impact did the forensic evidence actually have).

This presentation will discuss the results of the quantitative study of cases which involved chemical trace evidence (e.g. paint, glass and fibres) and fire investigation. The relationship between the results of the forensic examinations and the outcomes of the associated police investigation and court trials will be presented. The influence of a range of other factors (e.g. the timeliness of reporting results, the inclusion of other forms of forensic evidence) will also be explored.

Biography

Employed in forensic science since 1989 and has experience in the fields of chemical trace evidence, drug analysis and blood alcohol. Currently the Manager of the Chemical & Physical Sciences Group at the Victoria Police Forensic Services Department. Studying for a PhD with TILES, University of Tasmania with a research project that is aimed at examining the effectiveness of forensic science in the criminal justice system.

The effectiveness of forensic science in the criminal justive system: Measuring the impact of forensic evidence on police investigations & court trials

P.A. Woodman1*, R. Julian2, C. Spiranovic3

1 Victoria Police Forensic Services Department, Victoria Police, VIC 3085, Australia
2 Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies, University of Tasmania, TAS 7001, Australia
3 Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania, TAS 7001, Australia

*corresponding author: pwoodman@utas.edu.au

There is an increasing reliance on forensic science to guide criminal investigations and to assist with achieving just outcomes in the courts. However the provision of forensic services is costly and the demand often exceeds the capacity of forensic laboratories. It is therefore important that forensic science is used to maximum effectiveness. In this study a mixed methods approach is being applied to examine the effectiveness of forensic science in a sample of criminal investigations conducted by Victoria Police.

Firstly, a quantitative analysis is being conducted to produce an empirical assessment of the impact of a selection of forensic disciplines. Databases have been developed that align the results of forensic examinations with the outcomes of police investigations and court trials. The significance of apparent relationships between forensic evidence and criminal justice outcomes will be statistically tested.

In the second phase, police investigators are being surveyed. The aim is to capture the perceived value that forensic science has provided to the processing of a sample of cases (i.e. what benefits did the investigators expect forensic evidence would add and what impact did the forensic evidence actually have).

This presentation will discuss the results of the quantitative study of cases which involved chemical trace evidence (e.g. paint, glass and fibres) and fire investigation. The relationship between the results of the forensic examinations and the outcomes of the associated police investigation and court trials will be presented. The influence of a range of other factors (e.g. the timeliness of reporting results, the inclusion of other forms of forensic evidence) will also be explored.

Biography

Employed in forensic science since 1989 and has experience in the fields of chemical trace evidence, drug analysis and blood alcohol. Currently the Manager of the Chemical & Physical Sciences Group at the Victoria Police Forensic Services Department. Studying for a PhD with TILES, University of Tasmania with a research project that is aimed at examining the effectiveness of forensic science in the criminal justice system.

A path forward for bite-mark analysis: A response to the 2009 National Academy of Science Report

Rajshekar M1,2, Julian R1, Blizzard L2, Williams A3, Tennant M4, Forrest A5, Walsh L6, Wilson G7

1Tasmanian Institute Of Law Enforcement Studies
2Menzies Institute for Medical Research
3School of Medicine, University of Tasmania
4School of Anatomy Physiology and Human Biology, University of Western Australia
5School of Natural Sciences, Griffith University
6School of Dentistry, University of Queensland
7Advanced Animal Dentistry, Brisbane

Corresponding author: Mithun.Rajshekar@utas.edu.au

Background

In 2009, the National Academy of Science1 conducted a review of forensic disciplines and their role as expert evidence in US cases, taking into consideration cases in which the convicted individual was subsequently exonerated due to DNA testing following judicial review2. Together with other latent print identification techniques, the report was critical of forensic odontology, and in particular of bite mark analysis and comparison, on the basis that they lacked rigorous scientific underpinning. The NAS reported that the limitations of forensic techniques included inadequate scientific underpinnings, a paucity of research on human observer bias, and lack of technological innovation.

The NAS report indicated that both scientific and systemic changes need to be made to bite-mark analysis, to ensure their reliability, establish standards and to promote practices that are consistent1. Instead of dismissing bite-mark analysis as just another poor forensic science, the path forward should be to follow a rigorous and comprehensive research program to understand the various factors associated with successful bite-mark analysis and address each of the issues that are relevant to the improvement of bite-mark analysis.

Aim

The overall aim of this presentation is to outline factors that affect bite-mark analysis as indicated by the NAS report and make long and short term recommendations for future research. I will also be presenting a brief outline of my PhD research. This is in response to the criticism by NAS on the lack of validity studies on techniques that can be used in bite-mark analysis. The aim of this research was to investigate the ability of a non-invasive handheld 3D-scanner to record dental features that can be used when comparing bite-marks with suspect dentitions. It can be argued that the credibility of evidence from bite-mark analysis can be strengthened by continued research, thereby minimizing wrongful convictions.

1.National Research Council. Strengthening forensic science in the United States: A path forward. Washington DC: National Academy of Sciences, August 2009. Report No.: Contract No.: 228091.

2.Project I. The Innocence Network is a group of independent organizations that exonerate and support the innocent, and redress the causes of wrongful conviction. New York: Innocence Project; 2016 [updated 2016]. Available from: http://www.innocenceproject.org/.

Biography

Dr Mithun Rajshekar is currently a final year PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania, sharing his candidature between the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania and the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies pursuing his research on bite-mark analysis. Mithun completed his Bachelor of Dental Surgery from India in 2006. In 2008, Mithun moved to Perth, Australia, to pursue his Masters in Forensic Sciences from theCentre for Forensic Sciences, UWA . The topic of his dissertation was Forensic Odontology and bite-mark analysis.Over the years, Mithun has published peer reviewed articles on various aspects of forensic odontology.

A path forward for bite-mark analysis: A response to the 2009 National Academy of Science Report

Rajshekar M1,2, Julian R1, Blizzard L2, Williams A3, Tennant M4, Forrest A5, Walsh L6, Wilson G7

1Tasmanian Institute Of Law Enforcement Studies
2Menzies Institute for Medical Research
3School of Medicine, University of Tasmania
4School of Anatomy Physiology and Human Biology, University of Western Australia
5School of Natural Sciences, Griffith University
6School of Dentistry, University of Queensland
7Advanced Animal Dentistry, Brisbane

Corresponding author: Mithun.Rajshekar@utas.edu.au

Background

In 2009, the National Academy of Science1 conducted a review of forensic disciplines and their role as expert evidence in US cases, taking into consideration cases in which the convicted individual was subsequently exonerated due to DNA testing following judicial review2. Together with other latent print identification techniques, the report was critical of forensic odontology, and in particular of bite mark analysis and comparison, on the basis that they lacked rigorous scientific underpinning. The NAS reported that the limitations of forensic techniques included inadequate scientific underpinnings, a paucity of research on human observer bias, and lack of technological innovation.

The NAS report indicated that both scientific and systemic changes need to be made to bite-mark analysis, to ensure their reliability, establish standards and to promote practices that are consistent1. Instead of dismissing bite-mark analysis as just another poor forensic science, the path forward should be to follow a rigorous and comprehensive research program to understand the various factors associated with successful bite-mark analysis and address each of the issues that are relevant to the improvement of bite-mark analysis.

Aim

The overall aim of this presentation is to outline factors that affect bite-mark analysis as indicated by the NAS report and make long and short term recommendations for future research. I will also be presenting a brief outline of my PhD research. This is in response to the criticism by NAS on the lack of validity studies on techniques that can be used in bite-mark analysis. The aim of this research was to investigate the ability of a non-invasive handheld 3D-scanner to record dental features that can be used when comparing bite-marks with suspect dentitions. It can be argued that the credibility of evidence from bite-mark analysis can be strengthened by continued research, thereby minimizing wrongful convictions.

1.National Research Council. Strengthening forensic science in the United States: A path forward. Washington DC: National Academy of Sciences, August 2009. Report No.: Contract No.: 228091.

2.Project I. The Innocence Network is a group of independent organizations that exonerate and support the innocent, and redress the causes of wrongful conviction. New York: Innocence Project; 2016 [updated 2016]. Available from: http://www.innocenceproject.org/.

Biography

Dr Mithun Rajshekar is currently a final year PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania, sharing his candidature between the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania and the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies pursuing his research on bite-mark analysis. Mithun completed his Bachelor of Dental Surgery from India in 2006. In 2008, Mithun moved to Perth, Australia, to pursue his Masters in Forensic Sciences from theCentre for Forensic Sciences, UWA . The topic of his dissertation was Forensic Odontology and bite-mark analysis.Over the years, Mithun has published peer reviewed articles on various aspects of forensic odontology.

Mobile and web technologies for correctional programs: Theoretical and policy challenges

S. Ross1*, S. Theerathitiwong2

1 Caraniche P/L
2 School of Social & Political Sciences, University of Melbourne

*corresponding author: sross@caraniche.com.au

Correctional rehabilitation program models have changed little in the past several decades, and still rely primarily on a mix of face-to-face supervision and case management, and group-based treatment.  These rehabilitative approaches are relatively expensive to deliver, with the result that intensive programs are typically reserved for only the highest risk offenders and only engage offenders for restricted periods.  In contrast, medical and more recently mental health interventions have developed a range of assessment, help-seeking and treatment delivery tools that use mobile and web technologies in combination with expert systems.  These approaches provide a way to extend access to treatment, improve the targeting of expensive personal health and mental health services, and allow users to access services when they want them and without resource constraints. Early results indicate that these methods can provide outcomes that match or exceed those from conventional treatment methods at a significantly lower cost.  These new engagement and treatment models have the potential to be applied to forensic/correctional rehabilitation programs, in particular programs targeting drug and alcohol and mental health problems.  However, in order to adapt these approaches some important policy and program structural challenges will need to be addressed. Key challenges include adapting correctional interventions to “user-driven” treatment approaches, developing a continuum of treatment approach appropriate for the needs of a more diverse population of clients, and integrating risk-based compliance monitoring with treatment.

Biography

Dr. Stuart Ross is General Manager, Research & Development at Caraniche, a Victorian-based private consulting firm that delivers a range of specialist psychological services to the government, private and not-for-profit organisations. He is also Senior fellow in the School of Social & Political Sciences at the Unioversity of Melbourne.

Seven deadly sins: The development of a qualitative understanding of homicide offender motive

B. Parker

Queensland University of Technology

The paper explores homicide motive through a situational lens in order to determine whether they differ in terms of their victim, offender, and offence characteristics.  The aim is not to identify why people engage in homicidal behaviours, but instead to examine whether there are particular distinctive qualitative characteristics that distinguish motives.  One hundred and forty nine Australian homicide cases are analysed using Qualitative Comparative Analyses (QCA).  The results of the descriptive analyses indicate that each motive is associated with both distinct and shared defining characteristics.  Furthermore, the results of the QCAs indicate that there are both distinct and shared combinations of victim, offender, and offence conditions for each, and between motives, with important qualitative features that may distinguish the motives from one another.  This research forms the first step in the exploration of homicide motive as the ostensible reason, or purpose, for the homicide’s occurrence, whilst examining it from a situational perspective.  It highlights the importance of looking beyond the general homicide statistics and disaggregating them by motive.  Furthermore, the results form the foundation for further development of motive models, which may be relevant to both investigative and judicial processes.

Biography

Belinda is currently a PhD student at the Queensland University of Technology.  She has attained a Bachelor of Music (Performance) and Bachelor of Social Science (Psychology) with honours before turning to her higher education in criminology.  Her area of interest is motive, particularly with regards to homicide, and her current research is exploring the situational characteristics associated with the motives in order to determine whether they differ in terms of their victim, offender, and offence characteristics.

Mapping out the key stages of cyberstalking investigations in Australia

B. O’Shea1*, R. Julian2, J. Prichard3, S. Kelty4

1 University of Tasmania, Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies TILES, Hobart, Australia
2 University of Tasmania, Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies TILES, Hobart, Australia
3 University of Tasmania, Faculty of Law, Hobart, Australia
4 University of Canberra, Centre for Applied Psychology, Faculty of Health, Bruce, Australia

*corresponding author: Brianna.OShea@utas.edu.au

There has been very little criminological research on the process of investigation and the factors that impact upon it (Innes, 2002), particularly in cases of cyberstalking. Empirical data from interviews with Australian police investigators and prosecutors, identifies critical decision making points in the investigation of cyberstalking. This paper provides a critical discussion of the 7 key stages of a cyberstalking investigation outlined by Casey (2004) which are: interviewing the victim; interviewing others; victimology and risk assessment; additional digital evidence; crime scene characteristics; motivation; and repeating the stages if necessary. A far more complex map is proposed to detail the investigative process from the initial report of the incident to the preparation of the prosecution brief. This paper identifies the members of Police and other organisations and agencies involved in the investigative process of cyberstalking. The tensions surrounding the expectations of prosecutors compared to the realities of investigators will be discussed. Stalking both online and offline is notoriously difficult to prove in Australia and mapping out the key stages of cyberstalking may be used to inform policy and procedures surrounding the process of investigation and the impacting factors.

Biography

Brianna O’Shea has a Bachelor of Behavioural Science majoring in Psychology, Criminology and Behavioural Neuroscience and a Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in Criminology from the University of Tasmania. Brianna is a PhD Candidate at the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies. She received the Australian Postgraduate Award for her PhD study titled ‘The Investigation and Prosecution of Cyberstalking in Australia’. Brianna also received a Teaching Fellowship in Police Studies and is now an Associate Lecturer at the University of Tasmania. Her current research interests include justice agency responses to cybercrime; crime prevention and child exploitation material.

From traces to knowledge: Toward computational forensic criminology ?

L.Grossrieder1*, F. Albertetti2, K. Stoffel2, O. Ribaux1

1 School of Criminal Justice, University of Lausanne
2 Information Management Institute, University of Neuchâtel

*corresponding author: lionel.grossrieder@unil.ch

The role of statistics and computational models in crime analysis is hardly contestable. The concrete added value provided by this global movement is however far from obvious and proposed approaches show many limitations, occasionally proved to be unrealistic. This presentation focuses on the contribution of computational techniques in crime analysis, especially for crime trends detection, through the lens of an interdisciplinary framework for better situating and integrating these innovations.

The proposed approach is based on a fundamental postulate of crime analysis: crimes follow patterns that can be detected and analysed through the exploitation of accessible data. The arguments are founded on the most elementary piece of data available: the trace, physical (and numerical) remnant of the litigious activity, which has been recognized and collected at crime scenes. To illustrate this framework, we focus on crime trends detection in order to explore the possibility to detect automatically these patterns or these inconsistencies with a change point analysis.

To empirically reach this objective, we have analysed police data of the canton of Vaud in Switzerland composed by serial or itinerant crime events and crime trends detection identified by crime analysts. The results show that automatic detection of breaks relating to crime trends is possible and strongly accurate with suitable parameters. Moreover, they show the necessity to build a more ambitious interdisciplinary framework in crime science, which will help to structure further the approach. Called Computational Forensic Criminology (CFC), it will seek to deliver crime analysis and intelligence, with the means of crime data stemming from traces, analysed with computational methods, and explained/supported by criminological theories.

This communication is part of the Swiss National Science Foundation project “An Intelligent Process-driven Knowledge Extraction Framework for Crime Analysis”, supported by the grant no156287 of the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Biography

Lionel Grossrieder is a research associate and a doctoral student in the School of Criminal Justice of Lausanne, Switzerland. He received his bachelor degree in psychology in 2009 and his master degree in criminology in 2011. His research interests include crime analysis, environmental criminology and forensic intelligence. He is currently involved in an interdisciplinary project on application of computational methods in crime analysis.

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