Forensic Criminology is the scientific study of crime and criminals for the purpose of addressing investigative and legal questions. “Forensic” refers to the application of specific acquired knowledge to a legal discussion or debate. Criminology is the scientific study of crime and criminals. Forensic criminology is a behavioral and forensic
science, characterized by an integration of material from many sub-disciplines including forensic science, criminal investigation, criminalistics, forensic psychology, victimology, crime reconstruction, criminal event analysis, criminal profiling, practical experience, and more1. The key distinguishing feature of a forensic criminologist compared to other criminologists, is the expectation that his opinions and findings will be used in the context of an investigative format or submitted in a legal proceeding.
A forensic criminologist has a particular examination to perform, or set of questions to answer. He is interested in theory and research only so far as it can be applied to an analysis or interpretation of a particular case. As a forensic expert, he conducts a rigorous, skeptical analysis of the entire body of evidence that objectivity demands, comprehensively comparing case facts and circumstances to each piece of evidence. A rigorous analysis of evidence, both by itself and also in context to other evidence, can reinforce or refute its relationship to a case, or it may be inconclusive. It may reveal indicia of guilt, or expose inaccuracies and inconsistencies. Objectivity demands a dispassionate, skeptical approach toward a case or set of circumstances. Forensic criminologists study the criminal in all of his facets including causal factors such as predisposition, precipitating factors, triggering factors, interaction between victim and offender, the role of the victim in the criminal justice system, et cetera. Criminology considers the environmental circumstances as well as the context in which the criminal was functioning at the time of the criminal act. An objective analysis of evidence demands skepticism, and requires context for an adequate understanding.
The goal of an event reconstruction is to determine what happened during the commission of a crime. A crime event reconstruction is a systematic process of properly recognizing evidence and arriving at an opinion about a particular event or set of circumstances based upon the evidence, and utilizing substantial experience that is born of common sense logic, training, education, knowledge, and ability. There is no substitute for experience in an event reconstruction. Such an analysis requires the entire body of evidence for a comprehensive evaluation. An event requires human interpretation. Humans must interpret evidence and exercise judgment, but humans have inherent limitations2. An experienced, knowledgeable forensic criminologist will render an objective evaluation of the totality of the evidence and base findings upon facts, evidence, and reliable criminological principles. A crime is dynamic; an analysis is static. A forensic analysis will provide context to the body of evidence which in turn provides relevance, to assist the trier of fact where inherent limitations exist. The forensic criminologist does not perform a confirmatory function. Although the forensic criminologist adheres to the rigors of science, just like the conclusions of an archeologist, there is no true standard from which to compare the results.
A practicing forensic criminologist employs advanced meta-cognitive critical thinking skills directed at a certain set of facts and circumstances. Critical thinking is the ability, developed by concordance with education, training, knowledge and experience, to evaluate facts, circumstances, and behaviors objectively, and to assess the presentation of the information or methods to establish the merit or worth of a fact under consideration as evidence. Critical thinking, as defined by Paul and Scriven3, is “…the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” The forensic criminologist is an expert by virtue of his relevant training, knowledge, experience, and education.
A Forensic Criminologist can testify about any forensic matter that can be evaluated scientifically, or a forensic matter in which he or she has sufficient practical experience, training, and knowledge to render an informed, expert opinion. If a case includes ambiguous, confusing facts, the criminologist aims to clarify them. A Forensic Criminologist will apply criminological analysis to a particular set of facts or circumstances using modern methodologies and generally accepted investigative practices and procedures. In the absence of specific policy and procedures, the forensic criminologist applies a “best practices” standard. The forensic criminologist employs theory in an applied manner utilizing case based knowledge and experience, focusing on the practical as opposed to theoretical. Findings and opinions are based upon evidentiary analysis and case facts are amenable to objective scrutiny and systematic testing, consistent with the scientific method. The methodology must be fully understandable, and easily explained to a trier of fact.
Criminology includes the construction of theories or models that allow for a better
understanding of criminal behavior and permit the development of
strategies intended to address the problem of crime. Theories
(interrelated propositions developed to describe, explain, predict
and control a criminal act or class of events) gain explanatory power from
inherent logical consistency, and are “tested” by how well they describe
and predict reality; but also how well they can factually describe criminal events in the past.
By adhering to the scientific method, a scientific criminological approach will include the formation of hypotheses, and testing of those hypotheses through attempts at falsification. The approach is amenable to objective scrutiny and systematic testing. Thus, the scientific endeavor can be advanced through:
Criminology is routinely subjected to each of these. Additionally, there is a good bit of common sense deduction and reasoning involved. There are peer-reviewed, scholarly journals discussing forensic criminology, and the practice has long been accepted in the forensic community as an authentic discipline.
I relied upon the following scholarly resources in the development of this description of forensic criminology as a science: