Forensics For Writers: The Wrap-Up
It’s been a fun few weeks, putting this series together and sharing it. I will almost certainly come back to it, but for now I’m moving on to other topics. This post will be a few thoughts, all the links in one place for those who want to bookmark the information, and of course the usual discussions in comments.
- Part One: a bit of history, what is admissible in court, and why.
- The Crime Scene: searches, evidence collection, and preservation of evidence.
- Evidence Collection: The nitty-gritty of evidence collection, with a case study.
- Blood Spatter and Ballistics: study of motion, sprays of blood, and where did that bullet come from?
- Toolmarks and Firearms: Using microscopic markings to match up evidence.
- It’s Written in the blood: a brief overview of serology and toxicology.
- Forensic Toxicology: Poisons, Drugs, Scientific Analysis and the Law (this is a paper on my own website, and not geared toward writers but includes some interesting case studies).
- The Gold Standard: DNA evidence and analysis.
There are whole missing sections of this, like questioned documents and what’s sometimes called ‘cyber forensics’ so do understand that this is a light overview of the world of forensic science. Since literally any sort of scientist could be called on to use their knowledge in a legal case, forensic science is very broad. There are, for instance, forensic botanists, odontologists, geologists… I left off the cyber forensics because it is the field I am least familiar with. It is, however, one of the fastest growing and most challenging in the legal aspects of it.
Consider this: If you have a phone, like the recent case with Apple, the FBI, and the San Bernadino terrorists, how do you get into it? When do you need a warrant? What do you do to prevent a phone that belongs to a suspect who is still alive and on the run from being remotely accessed? A mobile phone contains a wealth of information, enough to be comparable to carrying in your hip pocket what would have taken a warehouse to store back in the time of the Constitution’s writing. The phone is very tempting to the forensic analyst. But it is also clearly protected from search and seizure under the ‘papers’ of the Fourth Amendment.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides, “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
As a writer, this is an interesting wrinkle to explore. As a citizen, knowing that your whole life is on that device, and that it can be collected into a Faraday bag that will cut it off from all signals, and laid open to an investigator, it’s even more interesting and I used that word in a not-so-good sense. Laptops, tablets, GPS devices, all of these can be used to track and trace a subject’s path not only in the physical world, but the cyber one as well. Here, again, the TV shows with their hacking and hacker-types are pretty far off base, I’m given to understand. But it’s not my specialty (mine is more sticky, and stinky, and wet) so I’m not going to address it at length. Feel free to take it up in the comments, or if someone wants to write a guest post, get in touch with me. I’d like to include the topic in the series.
Because this series is also meant to be a springboard for speculation on ‘what comes next?” for those of us who write science fiction. Cyber forensics is the wave of the future, as the ‘Internet of Things’ is born, and our devices become smaller, more fictional (Dick Tracy watches, anyone?) and possibly, implanted into our very bodies. How do you access an implant without consent based on a warrant? What happens if you have a crime scene where an implant has been removed? What if removing the implant from the body’s biofeedback wipes it? How do you keep a victim alive long enough to forcibly download them? And prevent the signal from reaching investigators who could use it to triangulate into your position?
With all that speculation, I will leave you for this week. See you in the comments! I’m traveling, but will check in from time to time.