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Application of Forensic Evidence in Legal Cases

Introduction

Forensic evidence is important in ruling on criminal court cases where an eye witness is not available. There are however, various legal constraints in determining the admissibility of forensic evidence presented before a court for prosecution. The legal constraints are based on the fourth and fifth amendment of the federal constitution (Shoester, 2006). This paper presents four court case reviews, in which forensic evidence was presented against defendants for prosecution. The first two cases were cases where forensic evidence collection, presentation and seizure was allowed, while the third and fourth case are where capturing and soliciting of forensic evidence was allowed.

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The Case Night Stalker

This case involved a southern Californian man who was suspected to have murdered thirteen people in a period of one year, between 1984 and 1985 in one village. An alert was raised in the village following the indiscriminate killing of people, leading frantic hunt for the killer. On the night of 24th August, 1985, a teenage boy noticed a strange car driving in the village (Shoester, 2006). The boy recorded the license plate of the car and reported to the police. The police trailed the car and later found it disserted, with the keys inside. The key was seized, and the finger prints on the keys were analyzed and connected to the Richard Ramirez. The police then posted his pictures on various media channels leading to his arrest. Ramirez was taken to court and sentenced to death.

The court’s logic in this case was based on the fact that fingerprints are distinctive to every individual. Criminals wear gloves in order to hide their fingerprints when they touch on items that can be examined by forensic means and used to identify them. Besides, fingerprints are also used to prove that the suspect was at the crime scene. The ruling had a positive implication on the course of criminal investigations. The death sentence was a good penalty for the defendant for the murder of thirteen people. Forensic investigation played an important role in piecing together the evidence that the court used to prosecute the defendant.

The Case of the Atlanta Child Murderer

This was a case involving one Wayne Williams in a period of 1979 and 1981. Wayne reportedly killed 29 children by strangling them. The bodies of the strangled children were damped in a marked spot along a river bank. Police staked the area and one day got up with Wayne walking from the spot after a loud splash from the water. The police arrested Wayne but did not have eye witness evidence to prove the case against him as they had not seen him through the body in the water. From fibres found on his clothes, house, car and dog, a forensic investigation was carried out, and positively linked him the murder of the 29 victims. Wayne was convicted for killing and sentenced for live imprisonment.

Hair is a human feature that is unique to every individual. Presence of one’s hair at a crime scene can be a substantial evidence of involvement in the crime. Hair strands contains the DNA that can be used to identify someone just like the fingerprints. A total of 30 fibers recovered in the possession of Wayne were related to the victims of murder recovered from the river. This was a clear indication that Wayne was involved in the murder crimes of the victims. Live imprisonment was a good sentence for the offender, having murdered 29 lives. It was good that he spends the rest of his life in prison to avoid a repeat of the same.

The Case of Dr. Jeffery Mac Donald

On the 17th February, 1970, Dr. Jeffery reported to the police that his family had been attacked (Shelton, 2010). The attack left Dr. Jeffery’s pregnant wife of death, together with his two young daughters. The three died out of several knife stabs inflicted on them by the killer. In his story, Dr. Jeffery had narrated how the killer stabbed his family members to death, and living him with minor injuries. There was doubt in his story version but the case was dropped for lack of enough evidence. A forensic expert by examining the doctor’s pajama top established that the holes on the pajama linked the doctor to the murder. In his version, the doctor had intimated that he used the pajama to ward off the attacker’s knife. The holes on the pajama were too smooth; they could not match s a violent attacker.

The holes too matched the knife wounds on the wife’s body. Dr. Jeffery was linked to the murder of the wife together with the two daughters. The court sentenced Dr. Jeffrey to life imprisonment for the three counts of murder. This was a rather controversial case in which it the evidence adduced in court was generally weak. The forensic expert established that the pajama, which the doctor alleged to have used to ward off the knife attacker, was instead used to cover the victim as she was stabbed (Shelton, 2010). This alone could not be evidence enough to link the doctor to the crime as any other person apart from the doctor could have done the same. More investigation was needed to prove the doctor’s involvement in the crime. The court went out of way to solicit evidence that could relate the defendant to the case but the method used to prove the case did not provide enough evidence.

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The Case of Kelly the “Machine Gun”

Kelly was a well known criminal, who was involved largely in kidnapping and burglary. Together with his accomplices, machine gun kidnapped a rich man from the city of Oklahoma and started demanding ransom from his family. The family paid up to $ 200,000, and the man was released (Pyrek, 2007). Although the man had been blindfolded, he was able to relate the place where he had been kept during the ordeal and narrated it to the police. The police traced the place where the man had been detained and. The place was a farm house in the farm belonging to Kelly’s father in law.

During his detention, the man had spread his fingerprints by touching everything he came across in the house. After the finger prints were positively identified to match the man’s fingerprints, Kelly was arrested. He was sentenced to death for the offense. after proving that the fingerprints found on the items in the farmhouse belonged to the man who had been kidnapped, the prosecution was able to establish that that was the house where the man had been detained. The owner of the house, Kelly was therefore responsible and liable for the act. A ransom of $ 200,000 was one of the largest even to date (Pyrek, 2007). So as to serve as a deterrent to other would be kidnappers; a harsh penalty such as life imprisonment was valid.

Admissibility of Forensic Evidence in Court

Forensic evidence is usually collected and presented in court by a forensic expert as a witness in a criminal case. This is recognized under Rule 702, which gives powers to specialists or experts to give their expert witnesses in cases as long as the witness provides reliable data and also justifies the method used to obtain the data (Brown and Devenport, 2012). As early as 1923, the courts used the Frye test to test the lie in a testimony given by a witness. This test was later dismissed by the Supreme Court as lacking sufficient evidence to administer a case in court. In 1913, a new dimension of the forensic evidence presentation led to the establishment of the Daubert standard (Brown and Devenport, 2012). The Dubert standards provides a guideline to the judge to look at the evidence in terms of the testability of the theory, comparison with peer reviewed theory on the same and if the evidence has a general scientific acceptance.

Conclusion

Forensic evidence is important for the courts as they try catch up with the sophisticated criminals. It has helped courts crack several criminal cases that would rather remain undetermined due to lack of evidence. Opponents of the forensic evidence point out that the method has been used to wrongfully prosecute innocent people in some cases. These are some of teething problems that should not be allowed to cause abandonment of forensic evidence. More research should instead be carried out to strengthen it and make it an accurate and reliable source of evidence in courts.

Reference

Brown, T. and Devenport, J. (2012) Forensic Science: Advanced Investigations. New York: Cengage Learning.

Pyrek, K. (2007) Forensic Science under Siege. Challenges of Forensic Science Laboratories and the Medico-Legal Investigation System. New York: Elsevier.

Shelton, D., E. (2010) Forensic Science in Court: Challenges in the Twenty-first Century. London Rowman &Littlefield Publishers Inc.

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Shoester, V., M. (2006) Forensics in Law Enforcement. New York: Nova Science Publishers Inc.

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