Forensics is a key role in the criminal justice system which is nationally recognised in Britain. It is used as scientific evidence in the court of law to support the prosecution or defence in a criminal case. (The Telegraph, 2018, Sandra H) Within the last 40 years forensic science has gloomed in the eye of the public and has even made fashionable television to people. Forensics is the scientific study of crime and without it, it becomes increasingly hard to solve a case. Within the last 10 years there has been an increase in forensic backlog in Britain. This also includes forensic DNA, which is used in the national DNA database which has also been having a major backlog in cases. (The Herald, 2016) The DNA helps an investigator, to help find or illuminate previous offenders. Hundreds of offences have gone unsolved for up to a decade due to the delay in loading profiles. Helen Wicker, the forensic analyst has stated in a recent report that almost 6,000 DNA profiles still haven’t been loaded to this day. (March 2018, London) David Davis, the shadow home secretary, states: ‘This latest shambles further undermines the integrity of the DNA database and reinforces our calls for a parliamentary debate about the system.’ (2017) showing a big scare for the nation and asking big questions as to why this topic has arose.
This essay will cover the problems within the forensic backlog and the solutions which can be involved to help rectify these issues. Linking it heavily to the social harms that are also affected by this and the types of solutions I think that will help rectify these problems.
What is the importance of forensics within the Criminal Justice System?
Forensic science plays a vital role in the criminal justice system by providing scientifically based information through the analysis of physical evidence. (National Insti-tute of Justice, 2017 ) During an investigation, evidence is collected, analysed in a laboratory and then the results presented in court. Each crime scene is unique, and each case presents its own challenges. (J. Sara, April 26, 2018) Without the applica-tion of forensic science, criminals can never be convicted unless an eyewitness is present. While detectives and law enforcement agencies are involved in the collec-tion of evidence, be it physical or digital, it is forensic science that deals with the analysis of those evidence in order to establish facts admissible in the court of law. Thus in a world devoid of forensic science, murderers, thieves, drug traffickers and rapists would be roaming scot-free. (2017, Kate Huslet)
What are the problems that we are faced with?
Data shows from last year (2017) that police close a surprisingly 47% of cases because no suspect is identified. Even more surprisingly, 34% of this DNA has been found but just hasn’t been put through the DNA database, making it impossible to link suspects or illuminate suspects from a case. (Emma Wright, 9th Feb 2018) Forensic analysis alone can be very time-consuming. Evidence isn’t tested straight away for DNA to link a suspect to a crime. Evidence is firstly screened to determine whether any biological material is present and what type is it. Only then will DNA testing be undertaken in a case. Also, some samples can be tricky to analyse. Some samples can be degraded as fragmented or may contain DNA from multiple suspects. (Dan L. Burk , pp. 53-85, 1997) Naturally, the time taken for finding evidence against a suspect takes a long time. Even longer if there is a backlog of cases. However, the actual lab part of this crisis isn’t the main contributor to a long wait in forensic DNA. (Merton, 2017) It’s the starting of the process by the police. It’s been known in the UK that the chain of custody of evidence can sometimes be relaxed in the police force. Dr Gillian Tulley warns in her new report of 2018, that ‘if guidance is not followed as a matter of urgency, contamination could compromise evidence or mislead courts’. She also goes on to say, ‘police forces must not treat quality standards for forensic science as an optional extra and nor must others be delivering forensic science in the Criminal Justice System.’ The regulator found there is still a significant risk of DNA contamination in police custody. For example, an officer carrying evidence back to the forensic lab in his car stopping off to get some food, leaving the vehicle unattended. There is easy access for someone to tamper with the evidence or for it to be cross-contaminated if not bagged up properly. Situations like this are massively penalised in court and you will be heavily questioned about your actions. A lot of untested evidence is also stored and left in the law enforcement rooms. Most of the time lab technicians are unaware of evidence that needs to be tested as they haven’t been informed. Two-thirds of England’s crown court cases failed to go ahead on the day they were due to start. (The Telegraph, 2017) The national audit office (NAO) claims the criminal justice system was ‘not delivering value for money’ and explained how the total amount of this added up to £21 million which was spent by the crown prosecution service on cases which were never actually heard in court. The NAO also found a backlog of more than 51,00 cases that had built up in the crown courts. It is important to get the information from the laboratories as effectively and efficiently to the court room. Daubert in his book states ‘there are important differences between the quest for truth in the courtroom and the quest for truth in the laboratory (Backlog of Forensics and its Damming Effect, p. 2798, 2017). And that is something that is not being done quickly enough.
What is the solution?
Overseeing some of these issues that I have found in the forensic backlog, opens up my eye to the fact there isn’t a real structure put in place. A sense of organisation needs to be put in, so the operation of the forensics team can run smoothly. A theory linked to this is the ‘bakhtinian process’ which was discovered by Russian philosopher Mikhail (1937). This theory focuses on the strains generated by the existing norms. The change is introduced to stop these strains upon people of the reaction to those strains. (Werner and Baxter 1994) this reaction is always a positive one to ensure organisation and stability is put in place. I really feel the police and forensics workers should take a look into this theory to help them gather up new ideas and structure. They could think about a set of rules and guidelines to always follow in cases. Sourcing through the home offices new reports within the last 2 months I came across a more positive outlook on this criminal justice problem. In a report they stated ‘procedures have been strengthened to ensure that all forensic laboratories must submit weekly and monthly reports on DNA profiles that are unable to be loaded.’ I managed to source and think of other types of solutions. I thought about focusing on re-evaluating the procedures and seeking out the inefficiencies. Closely looking at where the bottlenecks are happening, so they can address them. This can be achieved by reviewing and challenging the current process, asking questions such as ‘does this system accurately fit what we wish to achieve?’ and ‘do all staff members have the right qualifications and level of training to complete the tasks before them?’ I also feel ploughing in more time and money into this would help motivate the people working to work to there highest standard. Hertzberg’s two-factor theory supports this outlook. This look into the factors that lead to satisfaction and motivate employees to work harder. Examples include feeling organised and career progression. Another solution would be to prioritise what’s more important when it comes through. If you have petty theft or a rape case and both need solving. Naturally start with the one that’s a more serious crime. A lot less people will be frustrated or annoyed. I would gather in more staff who specify in certain areas. This takes the pressure off the technicians and will ultimately be a lot quicker to get DNA evidence sorted. Also, re-train existing staff. This helps give them a refresher of what’s expected of them. It also gives them a boost to do to well and work efficiently. Re-check in of what’s expected of you and always keep in contact with the police about the case you are working on. This helps to stop confusion and to know what you are trying to find or eliminate.
Social harms effected by the Forensic backlog
Suspects re-offending whilst on bail
One of the major concerns for the social harms of society is that suspects typically re-offend whilst they are on bail. 75% of people who are arrested are released from police custody within just only 6 hours of being questioned and 95% are released within 24 hours. (Professor Brent Fisse, 2018) As the forensics aren’t being dealt with quick enough this leads to the suspects being let out. More then 350 murders were committed by people on bail over the last 5 years states the telegraph (23rd November 2018, Laura Picketts). Statistics show that one killing per week could have been prevented if the ‘criminal justice system did their job’ states Randal Simmons in a recent report. In October 2011 a man called Jonathan Vass was jailed for 30 years with the chance of parole after murdering his ex-girlfriend while on bail for the rape of her. This is one of many shocking cases I have come across. If he was tested there and then for his DNA he would have been found guilty within hours. Instead he was let out and then murdered her.
Keep the suspects in custody for the full 24 hours, instead of letting them out after 6 in some cases. Be thorough with their questioning. Come together with other before questioning an ascertain what type of information you want out of the person. This links in very well with the theory of ‘good cop, bad cop’. The ‘bad cop’ will always take an aggressive and negative stance towards the suspect in custody. Making accusations and sometimes threatening them. This sets a good presence to have a ‘good cop’ put in place. They would normally act sympathic towards the suspect, appearing somewhat supportive to them and in a lot of cases will defend the suspect to the bad cop. The person in custody usually feels co-operative towards the good cop out of trust, or sometimes feel obliged to say something out of fear of the ‘bad cop’. If the cases are more serious like murder, rape or violent abuse the police can apply to hold you up 36 or 96 hours which gives them more time to gather the evidence or facts. When on bail the police should give everyone a curfew that the suspect should abide by.
Due to the long wait of cases being heard and in a lot of cases not even having the chance to be heard, witnesses and victims were failed by the criminal justice system. Only 55% of those would have been a witness in the courtroom say they would not be prepared to come back and do so again, due to the lack of support they had. This is an outstanding statistic that would envitably damage a case.( Hannan, M.T. and J. Freeman (1999) Witnesses are a key part of a court case and will help the judge make a decision whether someone is guilty or not. Without that put in place a lot of cases would ultimately fail. An average 134 day wait between the case leaving the magistrates court and the start of the crown court hearing was on a 99-day average to a 2 year wait. As you can imagine this had a recurring impact on many aspects within the criminal justice system.
The biggest solution I would introduce here is keeping the witnesses up to date with what is going on. In some case’s you can’t help the delay of the evidence some-times and therefore a witness may have to wait around a lot longer then they would plan to. Also giving a witness a run though of what to expect at court, what types of questions they may be asked. This will help them stay at ease before a trial. Linking this all into the theory of emotions. More specifically the James-Lange theory of emotion. This theory suggests that when you see an external stimulus that leads to a physiological reaction. Your emotional reaction is dependent upon how you interpret those physical reactions. For example, being held back and not kept in the loop about the case you are being a witness for can have a negative effect on you. If you feel you aren’t being treated right, then your physical emotions will stop you from helping others in a case.
As discussed, prior, due to back-log of forensic evidence there is a major knock on effect. We have potential suspects in custody, that may have some evidence against them but without someone going to trial and being prosecuted properly you will not know of someone’s innocence or guilt. The human right’s act states ‘innocent until proven guilty’ Many suspects are labelled as ‘guilty’. Social media like anything is a great way to get cases out there but is also very damaging to people and their lives. The major problem with social media and suspects is that social media will portray someone as guilty when they haven’t been found guilty yet. In 2010, just before Christmas a 25-year-old woman Joanna Yeates went missing from her home and then later was found murder. Social media went crazy over this story once they discovered who her landlord was. This man was called Chris Jefferies, a former teacher. Due to a lot of newspapers and social media posts he was labelled as ‘weird’, ‘creepy’, ‘strange’ and was prodomently known as the man responsible for her death. Upon being arrested and questioned for a few days he was then released as there was no evidence against him. The British public still portrayed him as guilty. A few months later the real murder was found guilty. It was a younger man who didn’t ‘look’ particualiy weird. He didn’t make any front pages in this story. This is just one case of many others where, the waiting around of evidence to come though from the labs has given the social media time to give the wrong person attention in the public eye.
Stop the media from having coverage on people in custody. There should be a guide put in place if someone is writing a piece on a case to not be biased or influential to the reader. I also thin it’s something that the public need to deal with too. They shouldn’t believe everything they read or allow there opinion to be swayed.