Criminalistics Section News — December 2016

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles contained in the Academy News are those of the identified authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Academy.

Source: Patrick Buzzini, PhD, Section Program Co-Chair

Louis Armstrong’s and Jelly Roll Morton’s jazz notes are echoing in my head more and more often as the AAFS annual meeting in New Orleans draws nearer!

The theme of this upcoming meeting is extremely inspiring — Our Future Reflects Our Past: The Evolution of Forensic Science. We all have cultivated our own perspectives of our field based on the professional paths that we have chosen. The concepts we have learned, our challenges, opportunities, mentors, and colleagues have all shaped us into who we are today and form the filters through which we perceive and relate to our scientific discipline.

Upon hearing of this year’s theme, it brought to mind the similarities between two iconic figures in criminalistics:  Edmond Locard and Paul Kirk. It is amazing how, independently of each other, these two pioneers followed similar patterns and contributed tremendously to the development of criminalistics. Both of them applied their professional abilities to other endeavors: Locard was a secret code cracker during World War I and Kirk was assigned to the Manhattan Project. Both men made intellectual efforts to lay out not only what criminalistics is but also how it should be practiced. Each of them had fundamental principles of criminalistics attributed to them.

Locard and Kirk endorsed the notion of a trace being any physical entity left behind and the key-starting point of the criminalistic process. They both recognized and valued the variety of traces that can be recovered in an investigation and the importance of a holistic approach. Both men stressed the more reliable nature of physical evidence (the “mute” or “silent” witness) compared to other investigative information (i.e., eyewitnesses, interrogations, confessions, etc.).

Both pioneers predicted that one day we would be able to individualize a person based on the blood they left behind (even though nowadays we are debating whether or not individualization still has a place in current practice). They both recognized the uncertainties associated with the nature of physical evidence. Locard wrote that “Scientific evidence provides a certainty measurable in degrees…The number expressing the chance of error is never zero” (free translation from French); and Kirk wrote “in the court of law, it is often not recognized that all identification is purely a matter of probability.”

In light of these shared cornerstones, it is crucial that we should not forget to reflect on our history and core principles as we look forward to and shape the future of forensic science.

During the upcoming meeting, you are strongly encouraged to find opportunities to engage in conversations about the future of the discipline by sharing your own perceptions about our past. The panel sessions that will address AAFS President Gerns’s conference theme were already announced in the October column of the Academy News, Criminalistics Section. These are Our Future Reflects Our Past: The Evolution of Criminalistics, DNA Testimony Past, Present, and Future, and Deliberations on YSTR Interpretation Present and Future. This theme is also present in a number of individual papers that underwent our review process.

As you have certainly noticed, the program schedule for the 69th Annual Scientific Meeting, February 13-18, 2017, is now available on the AAFS website. Criminalistics Section Program Committee Chair Kristy Kadash and I, serving as the Co-chair, are convinced that you will enjoy the meeting.

Looking at the schedule you will realize that there are sessions that include discussions on contemporary topics such as Black Box/White Box studies and drug identification, as well as DNA statistical approaches and sexual assault case processing. Your active participation is strongly encouraged.

The Saturday morning sessions will address current affairs including quality and policy. Of particular note is the panel session Toward a Vision of a National Forensic Science Academy Specializing in Leadership and Management. Plan to stay on Saturday for this grand finale.

You are strongly encouraged to attend the Criminalistics Section Business Meeting on Wednesday, February 15. You are kindly reminded to register for the section luncheon while completing your meeting registration form.

As usual, the poster sessions will be between 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Poster sessions are great opportunities for enriching exchanges concerning the scientific content and networking. Do not miss the opportunity to explore the numerous posters featured.

Do not forget the Friday night presentation session Believe It or Not. Amazing and/or controversial case studies will be presented from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. This is not to be missed!

A final friendly reminder:  do not forget to register for the meeting, especially if you are presenting.

See y’all in New Orleans!