Forensics could be defined as the application of science towards helping the law enforcement or rather civil and criminal law in terms of evidence examination. Even though forensic science might be independent from the police, most of their work load comes from law enforcement since they support them with their work. The police pay for these services which prove to be of importance since science is based on basic principles of objectivity and neutrality. This is a field that should be grounded or revolve around applied ethics.
The collection, identification, and preservation of any piece of evidence involve numerous people and at this point, evidence could be mishandled either accidentally or deliberately (Downs and Anjali 12). The risks presented begin at the crime scene where there might be chances of planting evidence, mishandling, contamination, and destruction. After processing, the evidence is sent to a forensic laboratory which presents various probabilities of contamination, mislabeling, excess consumption, and destruction. After confirmation of results from analysts, the findings have to be reported. All this should be done in an ethical manner due to the weight put on forensics in cases.
The personnel should be honest and accurate when presenting the results from a previous examination. This means that they should be guided by a code of ethics that helps in ensuring that the job is conducted with the required ethics. In some instances, some individuals trusted with examination results have been accused of misrepresenting findings and drylabbing (Downs and Anjali 14). Drylabbing is referred to the reporting of results without performing any tests of analysis. Since forensic evidence is presented or reported by experts, it holds a lot of weight in any criminal case hence the need to act on a code of ethics. This is because inflated statistics, false testimonies and laboratory fraud could free or indict the wrong person. This would make jurors and citizens develop distrust for the law and its enforcers.
An ethical analyst owes it to himself, the jurors and the court to present truthful reports. This helps them to avoid misleading the prosecution, defense, jury and the state when testifying in court. This is a value that should be present from the beginning of the process to the last part of presentation. Since there is no specific code of ethics for all disciplines in forensic science, two primary organizations developed ethical codes that relate to all forensic procedures up to the stage of presentation in court. These organizations are the American board of Criminalists (ABC) and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Crime scene types and procedures prove to be of ambiguous in many situations hence lack of conformity to a specific procedure of policy. This together with the fact that the knowledge and expertise in forensic investigations; may help in the establishment of an individual’s innocence or guilt. This therefore mandates integrity together with professional ethics as essential tools for a forensic investigator. Since they are obligated to the truth, they should avoid being biased against or for the suspect in any given investigation. Scientific, legal and ethical values could get entangled in a court room but the expert should be focused on the on the ultimate goal which is the trial to make sure that the innocent are exonerated and the guilty convicted. Obligation to the truth helps the expert in serving the main aims of justice. This could be useful in confirming that the expert or practitioner conducted the investigations in a competent, thorough and unbiased manner.
To ensure professionalism, ethical behavior and veracity, most organizations come up with a written code of ethics which their employees are required to sign. An employee is obligated to conduct himself according to the stipulated terms of their membership or employment. The crime scene is the first place that forensic experts come into contact with the evidence. There are policies and procedures that govern proper documentation and collection of evidence. Failure to abide by the procedures means that the investigator is not only putting the case at risk but also acting unethically. This is where the chain of custody comes in to ensure that the evidence is not mishandled. The possibility of manipulation of evidence begins at the crime scene where it could be purposely or accidentally overlooked. This is one of the reasons why an established code of conduct should be applied from the earliest stage.
A code of ethics allows for proper evidence analysis. Analysis of physical evidence proves to be one of the most important steps in the process of investigation (Barnet 15). This is because proper analysis of physical evidence could change the outcome of an investigation in terms of convictions. At this point, an established code of ethics is important because chances of evidence being mishandled and or contaminated by the technician. The code of conduct should establish the necessity for technicians to possess proper knowledge and skills required in police departments and laboratories.
Also, it should insist on periodical training and the importance of maintaining current certification. Efforts of reducing possibility of evidence mishandling or contamination are made but there are still instances of contamination by the forensic departments. This is due to intentional manipulation most of the time as the technicians claim it was accidental. With a code of ethics, technicians and other forensic experts would be bound by a signed document which upon violation might lead to agreed termination hence loss of a career (Barnet 24). On the worst case, it leads to wrongful convictions hence reducing people’s faith in the legal system since it will be termed as a corrupt system.
Due to the fact that the work done by the forensic department is used in a court, it is essential that the skills and knowledge presented by the personnel demonstrate a strong scientific background. Also, criminalist understanding should be unquestionable since they are expected to act as witnesses in a case. In some cases, the testimony given by forensic scientists holds a lot of weight regarding the outcomes of the case (Barnet 38). This therefore proves that the scientists and lead experts in cases need to be well qualified and be of good moral and ethical conduct. Manipulation, contamination and mishandling of evidence prove to be of major impacts not only to cases but to the lives of those affected by the latter. This shows that competency by the forensic experts is mandatory. Only trained personnel with a good ethical conduct should be allowed to handle the evidence. Since the testimony of a forensic expert really influences the decision of the jury, unethical behavior in this field should not be tolerated. To be on the safe side, they should rely on an established code of conduct to get reduce chances of tainted credibility.
Downs, J C. U, and Anjali R. Swienton. Ethics in Forensic Science. Oxford: Academic, 2012. Print.
Barnet, D. Peter. Ethics in Forensic Science Professional Standards for the Practice of Criminalists. CRC Press, 2001. Print