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:

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.


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.

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