Anthropologists study bones. They have a better than 90% chance of determining the race, sex and an age range in most cases. The more complete the skeleton, the greater the accuracy. Partial skeletons are much more difficult to evaluate. Some anthropologists specialize in facial reconstruction. They can construct facial detail from skull bones. Unknown skeletons have been identified by this specialized technique. Anthropologists, however, should not make a positive identification from bones alone unless there is other material available for comparison, such as an X-ray or a detailed medical report. Anthropologists have been known to evaluate specific bony injuries in order to help with determining cause of death.
Botanists are able to look at plant material recovered from a scene or body and give some clues about a plant's origin. They know which plants are indigenous to particular areas. This information may help in determining if a body was transported from one location to another.
The job of the crime scene technician begins after the discovery of a body. This expert is a specially trained individual who is usually a member of local law enforcement or a state-wide investigative unit. The technician's expertise includes: (1) photographing and diagramming the death scene, (2) collecting all potentially important evidence in a investigation, such as blood, hair, fiber samples and weapons, (3) recovering fingerprints and other prints, such as those from shoes and tires, and (4) analyzing blood spatters.
The criminalist receives training in many different areas, such as questioned documents, ballistics, serology and toxicology. These areas are subspecialties in their own right. Most criminalists work in a laboratory with evidence such as blood, bullets, fingerprints, ammunition, and trace evidence, such as fibers and hair, soil, glass, and impressions left by other objects.
This expert can test a variety of other materials such as soil for its component elements and glass for its fragility and direction of impact. Footwear impressions, and tire treads can be matched with referenced manufacturers and retailers. Paint chips can be analyzed for their components and can be compared to the paint used by known manufacturers. Automobile manufacturers keep accurate records of the paint used on each make and model of their vehicles. Volatile liquids, such as gasoline or paint thinner, can be determined from suspected arson case.
Engineers are experts in materials and forces acting upon different materials. They are involved in traffic accidents, impact injuries, trajectories of projectiles and many other technical areas. They can be useful in many different product liability cases and are important in civil as well as criminal cases.
Insects are this expert's forte. Entomologists can identify not only the type of insect at the scene, but the age of the larvae. They know which ones are prevalent at any particular time of the year and how long it takes before eggs are laid on a body. This information helps to show how long a body remained in a particular location, but it does not necessarily tell an examiner how long the person was dead. A person may have died in one location and then moved to another.
Forensic pathology, a subspecialty in pathology, is the study of how and why people die by natural and traumatic means. A physician who becomes a forensic pathologist first attends an approved pathology residency program and then trains in one of the approved forensic fellowship training programs throughout the country. After training, the pathologist is eligible to take an examination to become board certified.
Most full-time forensic pathologists work in either a medical examiner's or coroner's office located in larger cities. These offices may operate as separate departments or divisions of other city, county, or state agencies. These offices vary in jurisdiction in each state and usually investigate traumatic, sudden, unexpected or suspicious deaths. They are also directly or indirectly connected to crime labs which have experts in serology, trace evidence, toxicology, and ballistics.
A bite mark on a victim or an assailant can be matched to the person making the bite. An expert who can analyze and interpret this data is specifically trained to make these determinations. Prior to making molds and photographs of the marks, an odontologist swabs the area to remove any saliva. An offender's blood type can be determined if they are one of the 80% of the population whose blood type is secreted in their bodily fluids. An odontologist is also an important consultant when positive identification is required. Dental comparisons are useful when visual and fingerprint identification cannot be made.
The expertise of a radiologist is used frequently by a medical examiner's office. Comparisons of antemortem to postmortem radiographs aid in decedent identification. These analyses are very important when a decedent cannot be identified by fingerprints or dental exams. A radiologist is also consulted for the evaluation of bony abnormalities in cases of suspected child abuse.
These experts are able to analyze handwriting for comparison purposes. They can determine whether or not a suspect actually wrote the document in question. Paper can be analyzed for its ingredients and age and ink can be analyzed for its chemical composition. Writing instruments, such as typewriters or pens, can also be evaluated.
A serologist analyzes fluids removed from a scene: clothing, victim, and/or suspect such as blood, urine, or semen. If a specimen from a scene is not decomposed, it can be compared to a blood type of all parties involved in a investigation. Consequently, blood removed from weapons and other objects can be tested. Blood need not be fluid to be of value; dried specimens are still useful. Occasionally, specific typing cannot be performed and a serologist is only able to determine whether or not such blood is human. Many serologists are trained in the technique of DNA fingerprinting.
The toxicologist evaluates organs and fluids from an autopsy and a scene for the presence or absence of drugs and chemicals. The types of pills or powders found on suspects can also be determined. Most common drugs of abuse and poisons can be readily discovered and quantitated. However, not every drug and chemical appears in a routine drug screen. The pathologist and investigator must consult with a toxicologist if any unusual drugs or poisons are suspected. They should also let the toxicologist know what prescribed or illegal drugs a dece dent was taking. Drugs and medicines from a scene should be recovered for analysis if needed.
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