Policing and forensic science

Authored by: Robin Williams

Handbook of Policing

Print publication date:  August  2008
Online publication date:  August  2012

Print ISBN: 9781843925002
eBook ISBN: 9780203118238
Adobe ISBN: 9781136308529


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It is difficult to exaggerate the level of enthusiasm with which a variety of contemporary policing stakeholders commend the actual and imagined uses of forensic science to support the investigation of crime and the prosecution of offenders (see, e.g. Home Office 2003; ACPO 2005; Forensic Science and Pathology Unit Home Office 2005; Green 2007). 1 However, the claims, expectations and desires underpinning this enthusiasm contrast markedly with a series of critical commentaries that question the presumed epistemic authority of many fields of forensic science, and dispute claims that their technological applications to the justice process are always and necessarily positive. Recent studies by Cole (1998, 2001, 2004), McCartney (2004, 2006a, 2006b, 2008), Murphy (2007) and Thompson (1993, 1995, 1997, 2005) have all pointed to the dangers of misplaced confidence in many of the claims to scientific certainty that accompany the deployment of specific forensic technologies, and the consequent risk this poses to the criminal process. As an instance of the latter concern, Gerlach's account of DNA profiling argues that support for the developing uses of this exceptionally powerful forensic innovation has been informed by, and has further impelled, the new forms of instrumental rationality that have come to dominate the criminal justice process of several contemporary democracies. In these new forms the increasing reliance on science (often proprietary science) for the management of socially problematic individuals and their fiscal costs to the state, represents ‘a shift in legal regimes away from an ideal type based on political value about the relationship between the individual and the state toward one based on values imported from the technological, scientific, and corporate domains’ (Gerlach 2004: 91).

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