Future Forensics: New Developments in Evidence Technology

Forensic Science Investigations collect  DNA and fingerprint evidence. Photo via West Midlands Police
Forensic Science Investigations collect DNA and fingerprint evidence. Photo via West Midlands Police

DNA evidence is widely used in criminal investigations to prosecute offenders and exonerate the innocent. The power of DNA often extends beyond the lab and into the courtroom – due to what some call the “CSI effect,” a reference to the popularity of crime scene investigation TV shows, juries have come to expect incriminating DNA testimonies to decide the fate of the accused.

The future of forensics and crime scene investigation is set to catch up to its sensational TV counterpart, as new DNA technologies promise faster investigations and more comprehensive criminal identification techniques. Analysis technology called “Rapid DNA” is already outfitting police departments with the ability to analyze samples within just 90 minutes, and can be performed without operation by an expert technician.

The Criminal Investigations Division of the Palm Bay Police Department (FL) has been working with a standalone Rapid DNA device to process evidence since 2012, and is now using DNA profiles obtained with this new technology to prosecute a suspect in a 2013 theft case – the first use of Rapid DNA in a criminal investigation. Rapid DNA also poses potential for screening offenders during the booking process, as a DNA profile collected during an arrest can be matched against a database for an almost instant link to DNA found at the scene of the crime – a process that currently takes 30-60 days.

Researchers are also developing methods to construct 3D face shape as predicted by variations in different genes. This technology could give investigators the power to digitally recreate a criminal’s face based on DNA samples.

In addition to DNA, fingerprint analysis is another powerful tool for investigation and identification. Recently, experts from the Dutch Forensic Institute announced their discovery of accurate fingerprint dating, a technique that measures the deterioration of bodily chemicals left on objects to determine the age of a print. While current methods can only analyze the fingerprint age within 15 days, forensic investigators will one day be able to date prints from years before.

Collecting DNA, fingerprints and other evidence from crime scenes is what the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC) calls a crucial “first phase of the justice process.” The NFSTC Crime Scene Investigation Guide – downloadable as PDF or for e-readers – was composed by crime scene experts and released in 2013 as a tool for law enforcement. In addition to detailing principles and procedures for evidence collection, the guide describes interviewing witnesses as a crucial step in an initial response to a crime scene.

Interviews recorded either at the scene or police station can be sent to Net Transcripts for transcription, and promptly returned for use in investigations. Visit Solutions for Law Enforcement for more information on transcription of investigative recordings.