Connecting the Dots: The Science of CSI

Connecting the Dots

The Science of CSI

Forensic Science in the Courtroom

Calvin Goddard examining examines a revolver using a helixometer, an instrument he co-invented with colleague, John Fisher. The barrel of each gun has unique helical grooves to spin the bullet that make impressions on the bullet as it passes through the barrel. Image source: The Edison Monthly. New York: New York Edison Co., 1909. View Source

Forensic Science in the Courtroom

Forensic scientists are often called upon to provide expert testimony at jury trials. But just because someone works as a scientist does not automatically guarantee that their testimony is accepted as evidence. The validity of research results, especially when dealing with new techniques, is often challenged in courts.

Attempts to identify criminals by physical features can be highly inaccurate as depicted by these mugshots of two unrelated individuals. Though not infallible, the application of science in law enforcement attempts to accurately identify material evidence. Image source: Frazer, Persifor. “Identification of Human Beings by the System of Alphonse Bertillon.” The Journal of the Franklin Institute, vol. 167, no. 9, 1909. View Source

Notable Cases

Two notable appellate cases, Frye v. United States in 1923 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals in 1993, have shaped how judges in the U.S. decide whether to admit or exclude scientific expert testimony. Whether a person’s life is at stake in a criminal trial or millions of dollars are on the table in a civil case, what is considered “good science” can have an impact well beyond the courtroom.