Forensics is the interface between science and the law. Forensic specialists could be medical experts such as physicians, psychologists and nurses; computer experts who track down electronic malfeasance; financial experts; firearms experts; forensic artists or forensic anthropologists. In each case, the key is the application of a particular science or specialized knowledge to legal issues.
Knowledge and Expertise
All forensic specialists need specialized knowledge about their field as well as legal issues. Physicians and nurses, for example, must understand scope of practice and standard of care issues and how those relate to medical malpractice. A financial expert must know how to track illegal monetary transactions and analyze financial dealings that may violate antitrust or bribery laws. In all cases, the forensic expert not only analyzes the evidence but also often acts as an expert witness when a case comes to court.
Educational requirements for forensic specialists differ according to the profession or occupation. A physician must attend college and medical school and complete a residency. A forensic pathologist, however, must have additional training and board certification in both general and forensic pathology. Computer forensic experts might have extensive formal education in computer science or could be experienced hackers who learn their skills working with computers and software. In all cases, educational qualifications can affect a jury or judge’s perceptions of the forensic expert, so graduate education, certifications and professional experience can be important for professional success.
Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville lists 44 different forensic science occupations on its website. These include evidence technicians, forensic scientists, latent fingerprint examiners, geneticists and molecular biologists. Other experts on the list are fingerprint experts, mitochondrial DNA examiners, forensic photographers, forensic toxicologists, firearms examiners, handwriting examiners, drug chemists, forensic drug analysts and arson experts. The university notes that these experts could work in laboratories; in district, state or local attorney’s offices; for private firms, colleges or universities; in the military; or for federal agencies such as the customs service or FBI.
A Deeper Look
One example of a forensic specialist is the forensic nurse. A registered nurse who might have anything from a nursing diploma to a doctorate, the forensic nurse must be licensed in all states and may also hold one or more professional certifications. She might specialize in sexual assault, elder abuse, domestic violence or child abuse. In some jurisdictions, forensic nurses work as death investigators or coroners. The nurse might collect evidence of rape, document physical abuse or examine the scene of a fatal automobile accident. She could advise a prosecuting or defense attorney, research medical-legal issues or testify as an expert witness.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Careers in Forensics – Analysis, Evidence and Law
- Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville: Forensic Sciences
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Registered Nurses
- International Association of Forensic Nurses: What Is Forensic Nursing?
- International Association of Forensic Nurses: Become a Forensic Nurse
- Photo Credit Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images
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