forensic science | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Investigations

Forensic science is the application of scientific methods and techniques to legal investigations, particularly in the criminal justice system.

Imagine science and detective work hand in hand. That’s forensic science. It is a critical component of the criminal justice system, working behind the scenes of criminal investigations. Forensic science bridges the gap between scientific principles and legal issues, providing concrete, objective evidence to aid in the resolution of crimes.

The Aim of Forensic Science

Forensic science aims to offer impartial, scientifically based evidence to assist in the investigation and prosecution of criminal cases. Its goal is to shed light on the truth, providing clear, unbiased facts to law enforcement, legal professionals, and court proceedings. In this way, forensic science helps promote justice.

The Breadth of Forensic Science: Techniques and Disciplines

The science behind forensics is broad. It involves an array of scientific techniques drawn from several disciplines, such as chemistry, biology, physics, and engineering. Each one brings unique tools and methods to analyze physical evidence, extract information, and reveal hidden details that are crucial to solving crimes.

Types of Forensic Evidence

Forensic scientists deal with various types of evidence. Each piece of evidence could be the key to identifying suspects, reconstructing crime scenes, or establishing facts about a crime. Here are some of the most common types of forensic evidence:

      • Fingerprints: Unique to every individual, fingerprints can provide definitive identification of a suspect.
      • DNA: The genetic material can identify a person or establish relationships between individuals. It’s an invaluable tool in investigations.
      • Bloodstains: These can reveal a lot about a crime. They can provide DNA and also give insights into the nature of the crime through bloodstain pattern analysis.
      • Firearms and Bullets: The study of firearms, bullets, and bullet impacts can reveal critical information about a crime.
      • Tool Marks: Tools leave unique marks, which can link a tool to a crime scene or even a suspect.

Working Environment of Forensic Scientists

Forensic scientists can work in a variety of environments. Many work in crime labs, where they analyze evidence collected from crime scenes. Others may be found in medical examiners’ offices, helping determine causes of death. Some forensic scientists also work as independent consultants, providing their expertise on a case-by-case basis.

The Role of Forensic Scientists in Court

Beyond the lab, forensic scientists also play an essential role in court. As expert witnesses, they explain their findings and analyses to the judge and jury. They translate complex scientific concepts into simple, understandable terms, allowing the court to make informed decisions based on the evidence presented.

The Multidisciplinary Nature of Forensic Science

Forensic science is a multidisciplinary field with several branches and sub-branches. Beyond criminalistics, each specializes in a specific area and provides unique insights into criminal investigations:

      • Forensic Biology: This branch focuses on biological evidence, like blood, saliva, and other bodily fluids.
      • Forensic Chemistry: Here, the emphasis is on analyzing non-biological materials, such as drugs or explosives.
      • Forensic Engineering: This deals with the study of accidents and failures that may have legal consequences, such as building collapses or car crashes.
      • Forensic Anthropology: This branch uses the principles of physical anthropology to identify human remains and determine the cause of death.
      • Forensic Entomology: Forensic entomologists use insects to establish the time and location of death.

These are just a few examples. Each branch has its specific techniques and methods, but they all share the same aim—to provide reliable, scientific evidence for use in criminal investigations and trials.


Forensic science sits at the intersection of science and law. Through the application of scientific principles and techniques, forensic science can unlock vital information hidden in physical evidence. Its importance to the criminal justice system cannot be understated, helping to find the truth and, ultimately, serve justice. By understanding the intricacies of forensic science, we can appreciate how science can help in the pursuit of truth and justice.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/20/2023

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