Forensic Investigations: Using Science to Answer Legal Questions and Mysteries

Forensic Investigations: Using Science to Answer Legal Questions and Mysteries

Forensic science, more commonly known as forensics, is the application of sciences to answer questions of interest to a legal system.  Forensics may be used to answer questions in relation to a crime or a civil action.  Forensics encompasses the accepted scholarly or scientific methodology and norms under which the facts regarding an event, or an artifact, or some other physical item (such as a corpse) is ascertained as being the case. The concept, therefore, is related to the notion of authentication, whereby an interest outside of a legal form exists in determining whether an object is what it purports to be, or is alleged as being.

The word forensic comes from the Latin adjective forensis, meaning “of or before the forum.” In Roman times, a criminal charge meant presenting the case before a group of public individuals in the forum. Both the person accused of the crime and the accuser would give speeches based on their side of the story.

The individual with the best argument and delivery would determine the outcome of the case. This origin is the source of the two modern usages of the word forensic – as a form of legal evidence and as a category of public presentation.

In modern use, the term “forensics” in place of “forensic science” can be considered incorrect as the term “forensic” is effectively a synonym for “legal” or “related to courts”. However, the term is now so closely associated with the scientific field that many dictionaries include the meaning that equates the word “forensics” with “forensic science”.

Private investigators with specialized training and education may engage in various forms of forensic investigations such as:

  • Forensic accounting
  • Forensic computer investigations
  • Forensic science investigations
  • Forensic document investigations
  • Environmental forensic investigations
  • Forensic crime scene investigations

Following are resources for forensic investigations:

  • Forensic Accounting Books – A collection of forensic accounting books available on
  • Alan Barbour’s Forensic Toxicology Page – Links to experts, laboratories, and forensic toxicology resources
  • American Board of Forensic Odontology – The American Board of Forensic Odontology was organized in 1976 under the auspices of the National Institute of Justice.  The ABFO is comprised of individuals who are national and world renowned experts. The ABFO is recognized by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences as a forensic specialty that offers board certification to its members.
  • American Board of Forensic Toxicologists – The objective of the Board is to establish, enhance, and revise as necessary, standards of qualification for those who practice forensic toxicology, and to certify as qualified specialists those voluntary applicants who comply with the requirements of the Board.
  • American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors – The ASCLD organization is dedicated to providing excellence in forensic science analysis through leadership in the management of forensic science
  • American Society of Questioned Document Examiners – The purposes of the Society is to foster education, sponsor scientific research, establish standards, exchange experience, and provide instruction in the field of questioned document examination, and to promote justice in matters that involve questions about documents.
  • American Psychological Association – Based in Washington, DC, the American Psychological Association (APA) is a scientific and professional organization that represents psychology in the United States. With more than 150,000 members, APA is the largest association of psychologists worldwide.
  • American Psychiatric Association – The American Psychiatric Association is a medical specialty society recognized world-wide. Its over 35,000 U.S. and international member physicians work together to ensure humane care and effective treatment for all persons with mental disorders, including mental retardation and substance-related disorders. It is the voice and conscience of modern psychiatry. Its vision is a society that has available, accessible quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment.
  • Canadian Psychological Association – The Canadian Psychological Association was organized in 1939 to improve the health and welfare of all Canadians; to promote excellence and innovation in psychological research, education, and practice; to promote the advancement, development, dissemination, and application of psychological knowledge; and to provide high-quality services to members.
  • American Academy of Forensic Psychology – The American Academy of Forensic Psychology (AAFP) is the education and training arm of the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP), which is responsible for the diplomating process in forensic psychology.
  • Annual Reviews – Annual Reviews publishes authoritative, analytic reviews in 37 focused disciplines within the Biomedical, Life, Physical, and Social Sciences. Annual Reviews publications are among the most highly cited in scientific literature. Annual Reviews offers publications in print and online to individuals, institutions, and consortia throughout the world.
  • Crime & Clues – Articles on the art and science of criminal investigation, covering numerous types of evidence including fingerprint, physical, testimonial, and behavioral.
  • Forensic Investigation Books –  A list of forensic investigation books available from
  • Introduction to Forensic Firearms Identification – Sometimes incorrectly referred to as ballistics, firearms identification has as its primary concern the identification of fired ammunition components (bullets, cartridge cases) to a specific firearm.
  • National Forensic Science Technology Center – Dedicated to supporting forensic science laboratories achieve the highest possible quality of operations.
  • Unshredder – Unshredder is a simple program that unleashes the power of a desktop computer to reduce the time consumed by investigators reconstructing shredded documentary evidence.  Until now the only alternative to manual processing was to engage a third party to process the work on computers at their premises. By comparison to external processing of the evidence Unshredder reduces the turnaround time, keeps full control of the investigation in-house and there is less risk of a security risk or loss of the evidence. The original shreds remain unchanged from the process and the integrity of the original is captured electronically to be printed or dispatched electronically by wire or disc.

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