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ROLE OF FORENSIC SCIENCE IN CRIMINAL LAW IN INDIA

INTRODUCTION

When one hears the word ‘forensics’, the first thing that flashes in our mind is the television drama CID. It is fascinating to see Dr. Salunkhe working in his laboratory and assisting the CID team in solving a murder mystery. Sounds fancy? Isn’t it? Well, it is not as fancy and interesting as it seems. Working for long hours in a laboratory, experimenting with chemicals and evaluating criminal stuff can become exhausting too. Forensics is an essential tool in the crime branch. Forensic science is a point of intersection for the two different lines of study, science and law. The justice system demands evidence to prove a crime and convict a criminal. The evidences are in the form of witnesses and material evidence. Forensic science deals with the latter. Forensic science is the amalgamation of medicine, technology and other science fields with legal studies and criminology. From autopsy to DNA testing, forensic investigation forms the core of scientific evidence. In this blog, we will explore the use of forensic science in criminal investigations and the flaws in its implementation.

FORENSIC SCIENCE AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE IN THE LEGAL FIELD

The word forensic is derived from the Latin word ‘forensis’, meaning “in open court” or “public”. The branch of forensic science uses scientific principles and methods, including physics, chemistry, and biology, to assist identification of the nature of crime and the criminal. Forensic science is an independent branch which evaluates physical evidence collected at crime scenes and helps the criminal justice system. The Court of Law admits scientific evidence in homicide, rape, drug abuse, and dowry death, among others. Common forensic evidence admissible in the court are Blood splatter, DNA, ballistics, fingerprints, autopsy, body fluids, and other physical or biological evidence found at the crime scene. It involves experts in anthropometry, toxicology, fingerprints and footprints technology, serology, ballistics and odontology. Forensic science determines the nature of the crime and the suspect, the time of the incident, the location or the crime scene, and the technique used by the offender to commit such an offence. Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act1872[1] deals with the applicability of the expert’s opinion on points of law. An ‘expert’ is a person specialising in a specific field. Section 293[2] of the Criminal Procedure Code deals with reports of certain Government scientific experts. The Court admits the testimony of such an expert and questions them regarding the same.[3] Let us discuss a few important fields of forensic science with the help of scenarios:

Toxicology: This field of forensics examines traces of toxins or drugs, such as arsenic, in the human body in cases of poisoning, sexual assault, road accidents, etc.

Ballistics: This branch of forensic science examines the evidence relating to firearms such as bullets, missiles and bombs. It helps to determine the speed, mobility, angular movement and effects of projectile units.

Fingerprints: The human finger is unique as each person has distinct finger impressions. It hardly changes with development or age and thus can be used to detect a suspect.

DNA: DNA evidence is used to research one’s genes. It is used in murder cases.

Anthropometry: It analyses the human remains to identify the physical characteristics and age of the body. The analysis of the injury will help to estimate the time of death.

PITFALLS IN SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION IN INDIA

Workforce resources: About 4500 forensic personnel work in Forensic laboratories in India, out of which only 3000 are forensic experts or scientists; the rest are assisting staff.[4]  This number has not seen any significant increase compared to the surge in crime rates in India. So, the Government needs to fill the vacancies in the post of scientists in Forensic science laboratories and increase awareness regarding Forensic science education.

Forensic science education: Our country has over 80 universities offering degrees, diplomas and certificates in forensic science education.[5] The focus should be on providing specialised courses such as toxicology, fingerprints, serology, etc. Lack of infrastructure, specialized faculty and laboratories impede training and specialisation in the sub-fields.

Lack of technology and instrumentation: Most forensic laboratories must be equipped to handle the workload. Forensic laboratories are required to be ISO- certified and forensic experts should be registered and certified practitioners.[6]

The reason for pending cases in the court is inaccuracy in the forensic examinations. It happens mainly because of tampering evidence. People unintentionally tamper with potential evidence and hamper its value. For example, in a murder case, the primary evidence is the victim’s body. If a third person tries to save the victim by moving the body from its original position, the evidence is useless. Anything around the body, if touched or moved, can ruin scientific evidence. It will probably not be possible to trace the murderer. It is the reason why no one is allowed in crime scenes.

Another problem with forensic evidence is that it demands accurate data or samples. Most biological samples are perishable, and the examination will produce no significant results. Time is an important factor in such scenarios. The crime scene investigation should advisably be done as soon as possible. In India, the scenario is quite pathetic. It is because reporting the incident to the police will take some time. Then the police will call the forensic experts at the crime scene if the location is in a remote town or village. The experts will travel from city headquarters to the said place, which will cause unnecessary investigation delays.

CONCLUSION

It is evident from the discussions above that India is still lagging in solving criminal matters because of its fragile investigation system. For effective justice, it is essential to bring reforms in forensic investigation. It is easy for a criminal to influence the witnesses. Scientific evidence can turn the tables for wrongdoers. It can prove the offence and identify the suspect. It can also explain how a certain criminal act has been executed. Therefore, it is necessary to equip the country with proper forensic science education and produce experts who can contribute to criminal investigation. It is also essential to raise awareness among the common mass about the consequences of failing to adhere to the protocols and guidelines.

[1] Indian Evidence Act 1872, s 45

[2] Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, s 293

[3] Dr. M.P. Kantak et al., ‘Utility of Daubert Guidelines in India’ (2004) 26(3) JIAFM <http://www.forensicindia.com/journals/jiafm/t04/i3/jalt04i3p110.pdf> accessed 26 June 2023

[4] Prachi Kathane et al., ‘The development, status and future of forensics in India (2021) 3 FSI <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fsir.2021.100215> accessed 26 June 2023

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid