Forensic science- a necessary tool in developing India

Arunima Dutta, Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology Kasturba Medical College, Manipal, Karnataka

2021-01-03 15:58:05

Credit:  Gustavo Fring from Pexels

Credit: Gustavo Fring from Pexels

In a developing country like India, forensic science plays a major role in curbing crime rates. In a statistical survey released by the National Crime Records Bureau in 2018, 91 rapes, 80 murders and 289 kidnappings have been reported daily on an average basis across the country. The rate of offences not just physical but also white collar and cyber-crimes have increased rapidly over the years. Forensic science is now being considered as an emerging branch to effectively solve and prevent offences. Forensic science was not non-existent in the country but rather its importance has been underplayed a lot resulting in huge number of pending cases and trials in the court. Lack of technical expertise, proper knowledge and efficient resources have led to increased crime rates and poor disposal of duties.

The entire criminal justice system is handled by the judiciary, police and the forensic laboratories. Forensic science is highly based upon the Locard’s Principle of exchange that states that whenever two bodies come into contact there is always a mutual exchange between them. The entire process of visiting the crime scene, searching for evidences, identifying them is based upon the fact that no crime is committed without leaving some trace behind it. The entire process of crime scene searching that is mostly done by the police initially led to damage and contamination of evidences because of lack of proper knowledge, awareness and training. In 2020, with a series of events that have occurred in the country, the demand for forensic investigations in crimes have increased rapidly.

Forensic science justifies the offences and penalties mentioned in the Indian Penal Code and the procedures of Criminal Procedure Code. The very popular dual murder case of a teenager girl and the domestic help shocked the entire nation. The lag in delivering justice was traced back to the poor investigation methods followed by the police. Most of the evidences were either damaged or contaminated and the forensic team was not informed to collect evidences. Patterned evidences like fingerprints, palm prints, blood spatter can only be properly collected and documented by forensic scientists. The initial step towards any investigation involves the barricading of the entire crime scene. In most of the crime scenes, local people including on-lookers and media often trespass the scene and form the major source of evidence damage and contamination.

The different steps in crime scene investigations include proper protection of the crime scene. By the term ‘crime scene’ it refers to any area which can have some possible evidences. It can be an outdoor or an indoor crime scene and also a primary or secondary crime scene. A primary crime scene refers to the area where the crime had actually taken place and the secondary crime scene refers to the area where the body has been found or disposed of. For example in a homicide case, the body half burnt was found in the river side, when traced back the weapon of offence along with blood trail pattern was found in the bedroom of the victim, thus in this case the bedroom became the primary crime scene and the riverside became the secondary crime scene. The second most important step is to decide the searching technique. Forensic science has underlined certain searching methods like spiral, grid or line, zonal, radial depending upon the size and nature of the crime scene. So, if it is an indoor crime scene, zonal method is the best preferred as it includes dividing the entire area into different zones and searched by an investigator along with his team members. This makes sure that none of the areas go unnoticed. Also, before searching or entering the crime scene the investigating officers and personnel should ensure proper safety measures like gloves, masks, and ensure proper documentation of the crime scene. Documentation refers to recording of the crime scene and it can be done by photography, videography, sketching and note-making. Documentation helps in preserving the crime scene as it was for future references during trials. Photographs should be taken as close-up, mid-range and overall modes. A mid-range photograph gives the spatial relation of an evidence to a fixed point in the crime scene whereas an overall one gives a bird’s eye view of the entire crime scene. Sketching of the crime scene is equally important and helps to document the dimensions, direction, position of different evidences present in the crime scene. This can be done either to scale which is called a fair sketch that is submitted along with other documents to the court and the other one can be drawn without scale that is a rough sketch and used for normal investigation. Sketches can be made in various techniques too depending upon the area and nature of the crime scene.

The most important information furnished by forensic science includes the ability to recognize a potential evidence and collect it accordingly. The different types of evidences found can be a trace evidence like hair, fiber, glass, paint, biological evidences like different body fluids, chemical evidences like alcohol, drugs, petroleum products, building materials, food samples, ballistic evidences like bullets, pellets, shell casings etc. Every evidence is documented depending upon its nature like transient evidences that fade off very easily or a conditional evidence like the temperature, lighting conditions has to be documented earlier than other evidences. Biological fluids can be collected only after proper air drying, in the presence of effective anti-coagulants and preservatives. Volatile fluids should be collected in metal air-tight or KAPAK containers. Thus, the importance of understanding how to classify evidence and identify it based upon its physical and chemical properties needs to be trained to the investigating officers.

Now the set up of the crime scene investigating team should be accordingly formed with one chief investigating officer and other team members. Media posts should be set in the outermost perimeter of the crime scene, and only limited number of people should be allowed inside. Dog squads and fingerprint experts should be informed before-hand. In case of explosions or bomb threats, bomb squad also should be informed accordingly. Previously even in the presence of such organizations their resources were not properly allocated, police did not maintain proper registers, lack of upgraded equipment and trained officers had reduced the rate of solving crimes. With the growing population different crime inhibiting techniques like proper databases, crime scene management and most importantly forwarding of evidences which have not been contaminated need to be followed.

Over-all the entire crime scene investigation should follow proper chain of custody, starting from searching, collection, packaging and forwarding of evidences, the chain of custody should not be broken, this can be ensured by following the protocols of sealing the evidence packets, labelling them and adding an inventory to all of them. For proper analysis the optimum quantity also should be packed and forwarded. Cyber -crimes and white-collar crimes are growing in huge rates as they mostly occur over a digital platform and do not require any physical violence. Often these crimes go unreported and unnoticed because of unaware people and only when any monetary loss or any potential data is lost, people get to know about such crimes. These do not have much physical evidences and often an incidence response team is allocated by every organization to look into such matters.

Finally, with the growing and developing economy and lifestyle, crimes are bound to happen over large numbers. The country has several forensic laboratories working in the regional, state and central level with necessary departments. Some of them have also opened new departments like Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, DNA Profiling, Voice Analysis and Cyber Crime Branch. Recruiting proper trained officials in such areas is necessary, also maintaining of proper databases in the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) is required. Developing the different intelligence agencies and investigation bureaus can be done by arranging seminars, conferences, workshop for police officials, advocates and medical examiners, introducing ethical practices for the same and training new recruits as well as existing employees to deal with the current crime scenario in the country.