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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

MORPH2016: Measuring our models

Sian ESmith5 July 2016

MORPHLogo

Morphometric Applications in Archaeology and Anthropology

Our friends in the Institute of Archaeology (IOA) hosted a conference last month- Morph2016 : Morphometric Applications in Archaeology and Anthropology

Geometric morphometrics (GMM) is the quantitative measurement of morphological shape using geometric co-ordinates, rather than just measurements. Using CAD (computer assisted design) methods the geometry of an object can be captured with outline and landmark data, and 3D surface representations. Morphometric-based methods are increasingly used in diverse areas such as molecular genetics and environmental science, but they have become particularly relevant in archaeology and anthropology.

There was a wide variety of speakers including some of our CFS researchers and from the IOA.

Agathe Ribereau Gayon gave a presentation on an important discovery in her research so far. She observed a unique type of trauma on human remains in an oceanic environment; she discussed how she utilised 2D-photogrammetric methods to capture and categorise the geometric data of the trauma.

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Agathe presenting her research

 

I presented a poster on my MRes project; a ‘proof of methodology’ study on the use of 3D-photogrammetry (specifically structure from motion) for modelling and analysing sharp-force trauma on bone. 3D-photogrammetry is commonly used in large-scale modelling of built environments and archaeological sites for example. By using macro lenses and adjusting the lighting conditions I have been able to apply this on a much smaller scale to create interactive models with sufficient details for weapon classification. We achieved a high level of success in distinguishing serrated from non-serrated blade edges, when compared to the current standard method of Scanning Electron Microscopy. 

 

My research poster

My research poster

Lily Stokoe, from the Institute of Archaeology, has been utilising 3D scanning to study the aetiology of osteoarthritis. This is an enduring mystery for osteologists and medical researchers. Using the 3D scans, she is able to take accurate measurements of the angles in the femur to identify potential biomechanical and lifestyle causes.

Dr Carolyn Rando talked about the challenges of integrating morphometrics into teaching. It has become an important part of how we analyse geometric data in archaeology and anthropology, but if you have a room full of students with different levels of tech skill, how do you make it accessible to all of them? By getting hands on with a simple, structured practical taking measurements from a skull, beginners through to more advanced students can understand where these methods can be beneficial.

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Carolyn giving her talk on teaching morphometrics

 

Since Carolyn started teaching this, the IOA has gone from having very few students working in GMM to having a wide range of Msc and PhD students working on different applications of 2D and 3D imaging methods.

The committee organised a great conference; with the diverse group of speakers the conference explored a range of methodologies, practical applications, and key issues in the field.

 

Catch up with the tweets from the event with #MORPH2016

 

“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.

Curious Case of the Cat Burglar

Sian ESmith13 May 2016

As part of Inspire’s exciting iDiscover programme, myself and Simona had the wonderful opportunity to talk to some primary school children about the forensic sciences and how we help ‘fight crime’!
We spent the day with the nursery and reception classes at Colvestone Primary School and tried to wow them with our science-witchcraft. Using coffee filters and felt pens we ran a little experiment to replicate chromatography; using the rainbow coloured papers we made them into beautiful butterflies.

Chromatography butterfly

Chromatography butterfly

Then, our budding little forensic scientists solved the crime of who stole the money using footprints… or paw prints as it turned out. The lion had made off with the cash!

Who stole the cash?

Who stole the cash?

Michaela and Agathe also took the show on the road to Hackney New Primary School. They received a lovely welcome from the children and teachers, who all really enjoyed the session.
We all had a great time taking our love of forensic science to the schools, and hopefully inspired our lovely audiences to one day become forensic scientists

You can follow Inspire’s twitter updates here