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The Chain of Evidence - a critical appraisal of the applicability and validity of forensic research and the usability of forensic evidence

8 May 2013

Dagmar Heinrich

This research addresses the development and use of forensic evidence in two frames: forensic science research and the evidential value of forensic science in court. It is a critical study with the purpose of providing focus to both forensic research(ers) and the use(rs) of forensic evidence. 

Forensic research should focus on applied techniques and underpinning data which, firstly can practically be used, are most prevalently used in criminal investigations and/or are most valuable in apprehending and successfully prosecuting the perpetrator. Vast amounts of resources are used in scientific research, criminal investigations and trials therefore these should, given these austere times, be spent wisely and with direction.

The first theme of this PhD focuses on forensic science research: the applicability and validity of forensic research are reviewed and analysed, using amongst others a case study of forensic anthropology research into the effects of fire modification of sharp force trauma in bone. The second theme will analyse the use of forensic evidence in the court room, by analysing the relationship between types of evidence and successful outcome (conviction and corresponding sentence length) to determine evidential value.

The goal of this PhD is to follow the chain of evidence: understand the logic of forensic science research, identify the shortcomings, and provide advice and guidance to those carrying out research, to ensure its applicability and validity. Complementary analysis of the use of forensic evidence in the prosecution of homicide cases in the UK will allow for evidential value of the various types of forensic evidence to be established within this category. 

This will provide evidence to judiciary (and police) as to which types of (forensic) evidence are prevalent and which are most valuable in court. Collectively understanding the needs of the end users of forensic science has the potential of creating a demand and supply framework for directed forensic research. If resources are allocated to robust research, and methodological investigations and prosecutions, this will direct forensic research at a more dynamic pace to ensure efficient and effective use of evidence and manpower in criminal prosecution, ultimately saving time and money.