Forensic Science is the application of a wide array of sciences to the legal system. Although the recent surge in television programs and media attention to this area has resulted in many people mistakenly believing that “forensic” has to do with crime scenes and dead bodies, in actuality the term forensic is derived from the Latin word forensis, meaning “of or before the forum,” the ancient term for courts. Forensic scientists are scientists from a diverse range of content areas who apply their specialized skills to matters pertaining to the courts and the legal arena. Typically this involves criminal cases but it can also pertain to civil matters. There are a number of different types of forensic scientists but the common feature among all of these professions is the application of special skills and techniques to legal matters. Forensic science is an umbrella term that encompasses the physical sciences, social sciences, digital forensic science, and criminalistics.

Physical Sciences

There are a number of forensic applications within the Physical Sciences, such as Forensic Anthropology, Forensic Archeology, Forensic Dentistry, Forensic Entomology, and Forensic Pathology.

Forensic Anthropology

Forensic anthropology is the application of physical anthropology to the legal arena, most commonly through the analysis of physical remains that have been burned, mutilated, or have decomposed to the point where they are no longer recognizable.

Forensic Archeology

Forensic archeology  is the application of archeological skills to the legal arena, most commonly through the location, excavation, and recording of buried remains or other evidence.

Forensic Dentistry (Forensic Odontology)

Forensic dentistry is the application of dental science to the legal arena, most commonly through analysis of teeth or bite marks to determine age, identity, or other defining characteristics of a victim or perpetrator.

Forensic Entomology

Forensic entomology is the application of arthropod and insect biology to the legal arena, most commonly though the determination of location, presence, and time of wound infliction in a crime victim.

Forensic Pathology

Forensic pathology is the application of pathology to the legal arena, most commonly in confirming the identity and cause of death of a crime victim.

Social Sciences

Forensic applications within the Social Sciences include Forensic Psychology and Forensic Psychiatry.

Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology is the application of numerous aspects of psychology to the legal arena. Most commonly forensic psychologists are called upon to evaluate and provide expert testimony about legal issues in the criminal or civil arenas, such as a defendant’s competency to stand trial, mental state at the time of offense, risk for future violence, mitigating and aggravating circumstances, risk of danger to self or others, psychological injury, or child custody and access issues in family court. Forensic psychologists also apply their therapeutic intervention and treatment skills to the forensic arena by providing treatment to offenders and others involved in the civil or criminal justice system.

Forensic Psychiatry

Forensic psychiatry is the application of psychiatry to the legal arena, most commonly in providing evaluation and treatment services to those involved in the civil and criminal justice systems and to provide expert testimony to assist the court in making legal determinations on issues such as competency to stand trial, mental state at the time of the offense, risk for future violence, mitigating and aggravating circumstances, risk of danger to self or others, psychological injury, or child custody and access issues in family court. One of the major distinctions between a forensic psychologist and a forensic psychiatrist is that psychiatrists are medical doctors and, as such, can prescribe medication whereas only a few states allow prescription privileges for psychologists.

Digital Forensic Science

Digital Forensics or Digital Forensic Science involves the seizure, acquisition, and analysis of digital media to locate, identify, and authenticate all forms of digital evidence in any device used for digital data storage. Although the term computer forensics was common in the 1990s, digital forensics encompasses computer forensics as well as network forensics, database forensics, and mobile device forensics. Data recovery and analysis is used to provide information and evidence for the courts.

Criminalistics

Criminalistics is a broad term that encompasses a wide variety of means of identifying, analyzing, comparing, and interpreting physical evidence. Natural and physical science techniques are used to examine all forms of physical evidence. Ballistics and ballistic fingerprinting, DNA profiling, fingerprint analysis, and forensic toxicology are some of the common techniques that fall under the umbrella of criminalistics.

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