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Keeping forensic science valid

Keeping forensic science valid

Date Published: 30-Sep-16

In forensic chemistry investigation and analysis, results presented as evidence can make or break a criminal case. For example, clear coatings on vehicles weather over time and can provide important evidence in crime scene investigations. Understanding how this degradation occurs has been the focus of collaborative research involving ChemCentre expertise. ChemCentre forensic scientist Dr Kari Pitts presented a keynote address on the research at the Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society’s (ANZFSS) international conference in New Zealand this month.
Kari said the research, which used infrared spectroscopy to assess the depth of degradation in the paint, was used to verify the accuracy of modelled predictions in weathering against actual observed predictions.

“We found that the models were accurate for associations involving degradation in the first 175 days, but incorrect predictions occurred after 435 days exposure,” Kari said.

ChemCentre’s Forensic Science Laboratory Director Colin Priddis said this type of research was increasingly important as the international trend in forensic science demanded scientific rigour in the type of evidence presented in courts.

“As a discipline, forensic science recognises that it is critically important to remove as much subjective opinion evidence as possible,” Colin said. “It used to be enough for an expert witness to give an opinion based on 20 years experience, but that is no longer good enough. We need to be able to talk about the analysis used, and those analysis methods have to be reliable and validated. As far as is possible, the opinions we derive and terminology we use have to be objective.”

Colin, who is Chair of Senior Managers of Australian and New Zealand Forensic Laboratories (SMANZFL) and sits on the Forensic Executive Committee of the National Institute of Forensic Scientists (NIFS), said it was very important for forensic managers and scientists to be abreast of worldwide trends and issues in forensic leadership, management and quality systems as well as the technological advances that will impact on forensic science services in the future.

“We all need to keep abreast as new equipment and techniques are developed and the ANZFSS conference is an opportunity to do so,” he said.

The conference also provided a platform for the release of reports that are critically important to the management and leadership of forensic science, such as the PCAST ([US]President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature Comparison Methods, which was released this month.

The creation and implementation of standards and guidelines, nationally and internationally, that are focussed on forensic operations is a natural progression for forensic agencies worldwide to be working to the same levels of reliability and objectivity.

“Attending gatherings of other forensic scientists and being involved in the broader forensic science community is one way in which ChemCentre ensures we stay at the leading edge of forensic science nationally and internationally,” Colin said.

At present, Colin is the SMANZFL Mentor for the Toxicology and Chemical Criminalistics Special Advisory Groups (SAGS) and ChemCentre staff Chair three of these – Bianca Douglas leads the Toxicology SAG, Dominic Reynolds leads the Drugs SAG, and Peter Collins leads the Chemical Criminalistics SAG.

“It is indicative of the expertise within ChemCentre that we hold multiple concurrent leadership roles in national initiatives, demonstrating the depth and value of our forensics experience," Colin said.
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