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Presenting Evidence in Court: Courtroom Assessment Day

Samuel H ATobias14 July 2016

Sam here, checking in again. Classes have come to an end, and my MSc. colleagues and I are all working hard on our respective dissertation projects.

 

The Old Bailey. It's dome is topped by a bronze statue of Justice by sculptor F.W. Pomeroy. © UCL Media Services - University College London

The Old Bailey. Its dome is topped by a bronze statue of Justice by sculptor F.W. Pomeroy. © UCL Media Services – University College London

 

When I first considered a career in forensic science, I sought advice from a friend in the field. He informed me that the skill most often lacking in applications to forensic science jobs is experience in presenting evidence in a courtroom. Knowing that I had to develop that skill to be a competitive applicant, UCL’s MSc. in Crime and Forensic Science appealed to me greatly because it places a great focus on the relationship between the forensic scientist and the criminal justice system.

In the module “Practices of Crime Scene Investigation and Expert Testimony”, we were evaluated on our ability to present our findings from a mock crime scene to a jury. After the presentation of evidence-in-chief (initial explanation of findings, led by questioning by the prosecution), we were grilled by the defence barrister (former forensic science master’s student turned lawyer). We had received formal training from Bond Solon on presenting expert evidence, and this mock court was a way to put that to good use.

 

Bond Solon provided expert witness training for us

Bond Solon provided expert witness training for us

 

Although it was intimidating at times, and questions were sometimes posed to trip us up or to create doubt, taking a deep breath and clearly thinking about how to answer each question was the best way to proceed. The experience showed me how much preparation is involved in expert witness testimony, and how difficult it can be to break down technical knowledge into language that anyone (in this case, the lay jury) can understand. I found that the training we received, along with visits to the Old Bailey to observe a real courtroom, were extremely helpful.

The experience of presenting evidence in court myself as well as observing my classmates’ testimonies helped to solidify the content of this module and the course as a whole.

See my previous posts on the UCL Centre for Forensic Sciences Blog here:

My Master’s Dissertation

Forensic Osteology Module

“Out of Africa – A Forensic Journey” – Dr David Klatzow Seminar

MichaelaRegan27 May 2016

This week we were fortunate to have Dr David Klatzow visiting us to give us an overview of the history of forensic science in South Africa by looking at the apartheid era up until the Oscar Pistorius trial.

In 1984, Dr Klatzow established the first private forensic laboratory in South Africa and during a period of 28 years he has investigated over 2000 cases ranging from criminal matters to civil disputes. He has also worked with the Legal Resources Centre (http://www.lrc.org.za/).

Dr David Klatzow

Dr David Klatzow

During the seminar, Dr Klatzow demonstrated the issues of having forensic science departments closely linked to police or government agencies; as it creates a dangerous situation because experience has shown that these departments can be left open to mistakes and even corruption.

He further emphasised that the first step to changing this process is at the crime scene management stage. The Oscar Pistorius case is a prime example where rigorous crime scene analysis was not followed. The bathroom door was removed from the scene for ballistics analysis and even later brought into the courtroom, when such analysis could have been carried out at the scene. By doing this they risked contaminating the scene as well as introducing unnecessary bias to the case

Dr Klatzow’s talk represents current debates that are prominent in the field of forensic science. Ensuring the robustness of forensic evidence at all stages, from the crime scene to the presentation in court, is essential to ensuring accurate and unbiased conclusions. Encouraging the use of experimental studies to validate our assessments as forensic scientists, rather than just relying on craft knowledge, is an obvious trend in the field and something that we at the CFS strive to incorporate into our teaching and research.

We are very grateful to Dr Klatzow for taking the time to talk to us about these issues and share his experiences.

MSc module assessment – Practices of Crime Scene Investigation and Expert Testimony

MichaelaRegan15 April 2016

Last week, we held the first part of the assessment of our MSc students on the Practices of Crime Scene Investigation and Expert Testimony module, aka CSI. The MSc students were given a fictitious crime scenario which they used to ask additional questions and then locate and collect items of evidence at a mock crime scene. This was my first year assisting on this module as a TA and I found it a very fascinating experience. Throughout the module, the students have practicals on different areas of the crime scene investigation including, documentation, packaging, evidence recovery and contamination-minimisation procedures. These are to prepare for this final mock crime scene and to give them an idea of what to expect when approaching and examining a crime scene.

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The students during their practicals

With identical training, one might expect the students to address the crime scene challenge in the same way. However, seeing the different approaches that each student takes and the different thought processes that go on has been very interesting. It is remarkable how some items of evidence or questions to ask for further information are more obvious to some people than others. It also shows that some people have a natural knack for this type of work compared to others. Next week is the second part of the assessment in which the students give evidence on their crime scene examination in a mock courtroom setting…I wonder how varied their testimonies will be?