February 17, 2020

Forensic science and the law

Investigation without the application of forensic science, how far can you go?

By Avril Eyewu – Edero

Forensic science is simply put as ‘the application of science to law’. This means that for forensic science to thrive it needs to work together with the law and for the law to truly work, it needs the application of Forensic science to guide judgment. The end goal is to seek justice by identifying the guilty and exonerating the innocent.

A forensic scientist’s job is to analyze forensic evidence such as DNA, Fingerprint, Document, hairs, teeth, mobile phones, etc, report the findings accurately and then present the evidence in court.

Basically, forensic science starts at the crime scene and ends in court. This makes it important that every step of the forensic process aligns and is guarded by the law.

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With the high crime rate experienced in Nigeria, Forensic science would be a useful tool to assist the court. For example in a case of suspicious death, several forensic analysis such as toxicology (analysis of drugs and poison) can be carried out to determine if any drug was involved in the death, an autopsy can be carried out to determine the manner of death (homicide, suicide, accident or natural death), circumstances of death, fingerprint analysis can be carried out to identify the deceased if unknown or for confirmation and ballistics evidence such as bullets can be retrieved, analyzed and matched to link the suspect to the crime. So, the possibilities are endless in this beneficial combination of forensic science and the law.

In Nigeria, the main evidence presented in court are usually verbal confessions or circumstantial evidence, this comes with a lot of issues as people could choose to confess wrongly to a crime, they know nothing about for various psychological reasons. We have seen a lot of cases when suspects confess to crimes, even on live TV but go to the court and say otherwise, this makes the prosecution process difficult. But with the addition of forensic science, the evidence, which is often referred to as the ‘silent witness’ would do all the talking, reducing the burden on the court.

Using forensic science in the court would also help reduce the long prosecution process we presently experience in Nigeria, as a lot of cases are prolonged due to lack of evidence to explain the circumstances concerning the crime and allegation. This long prosecution process is one of the main reasons people do not like to seek justice, allowing a lot of offenders to go freely and committing more crimes.

Also, the law enforcement agents and prosecutors would have the knowledge and tools to help build a compelling case as supposed to what we presently have now, where there is a hurry to charge a case to court with no form of investigation apart from a statement, leaving the court to basically investigate during the trial.

There is presently no provision for forensic science in Nigerian law. Lagos state has a coroner’s law, but it covers mostly death investigation and not other aspects of Forensic science which is quite broad.

For us to move ahead, we need to create laws to guide forensic science and forensic evidence admissibility in the Nigerian court, create awareness through the education of Judges, magistrates, lawyers and all law enforcement agents in Forensic science.

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It is important that Forensic Science and crime scene investigation courses are incorporated in the training modules at the Police academy, Military Academy, and other Law enforcement recruit training to ensure they start their career with this important knowledge and skill. Also, the Nigerian Bar Association should also include modules on Forensics in their law school curriculum, to educate lawyers.

Experts can educate the public through awareness. This way, Forensic science can truly work.

If we want the burden of proof to truly be beyond a reasonable doubt, we should take that step to ensure that Forensic science becomes part of the requirements and move away from the era of verbal statements and circumstantial evidence that cannot truly be substantiated.

If the court starts demanding forensic evidence, it will propel the police to invest in Forensics and the process for a better criminal justice system can start.

You cannot ignore the usefulness of Forensic science to the law.