Studying Forensic Science in College

I had an intern from one of the local high schools work at my office last year. The intern, Kyle Nicholson, seemed pretty interested in forensic science, but I started him off kind of slow. The first assignment was to accompany me at a jury trial on a trespass charge. Slowly he worked up to more serious matters that involved more forensic science. Kyle accompanied me out of town on a first degree murder charge I was hired to defend. The intern joined me about halfway through the trial, and I put him up in a room next to me in an inexpensive motel near the courthouse. As we ate some breakfast cereal, we looked at crime lab reports, and I thought to myself that this had to be the oddest high school internship ever.
Kyle Nicholson has since graduated from high school and is now in college working toward a degree in forensic science at Chaminade University in Hawaii. After I heard from him the other day, I checked out the website for the school’s forensic science program. The director of the forensic science department is Dr M. Lee Goff, who is a leading forensic expert, and also serves as a consultant to the T.V. show C.S.I. Check out this video explaining the forensic science program at Chaminade:

In my practice as a criminal defense lawyer, I come across most of those scientific disciplines that Dr. Goff describes. Dr. Goff is a leading expert on forensic entomology. Forensic entomology is the study of insects, particularly those insect that inhabit human remains, and the insects can tell us about information about the time, location, and manner of death. It is a pretty narrow field, and there are only fifteen forensic entomologists certified by the American Board of Forensic Entomology. One of the issues that can come up with forensic entomology is the fact that insects can walk through blood and track the blood to areas near the crime scene. This can interfere with the interpretation of blood spatter. One of the issues that I encountered in one of the murder cases that I have done is how insect bites can be misinterpreted by police detectives.  Flies and maggots are attracted to locations of the human body where blood is exposed, and postmortem insect activity can cause skin lesions that can resemble powder stippling, and thus lead in investigator to believe that a gun shot was fired at close range.

See an earlier post by me on The Study of Forensic Science in High School.

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3 Responses to “Studying Forensic Science in College”

  • Krystin:

    So what is the best school for forensic science degree in your opinion?

  • Bob:

    That sounds like an interesting program. When I was working in Seattle at TDA I believe at least one of the investigators there had taken or was taking a forensics program through the University of Washington. I believe it was perhaps a year long and ended up with a certificate of some sort.

    That was an interesting aspect of that case Steve. I never realized that insect activity could cause those kinds of marks. Just goes to show you how important it is for investigators to keep an open mind and to take the time to educate themselves.

  • Steve Graham:

    I am not sure what school is the best Krystin, I am kind of out of the loop on those things. If I were shopping for a forensic science degree school, i would look for a school that has a good job placement percentage, and that is in an area where I wouldn’t mind living. I think a lot of these school internships that are mentioned in this video turn into jobs after graduation.
    It is interesting Bob, how quickly these certificate programs have turned into full-fledged degree programs. In some funny way I think the TV shows are driving the market for these degrees. Jurors see the scientific capabilities on the discovery channel, and look for this scientific proof in court. Prosecutors realize this, and encourage police to be thorough and do more fingerprinting, DNA tests, hair and fiber analysis etc. And so police departments look to hire more employees trained in the above fields. Often times I see the police skip certain analyses (such as fingerprinting) to save time (like on a burglary charge). Jurors don’t like to see these steps skipped. They want solid proof, as well they should.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR….
Photo of Steve Graham Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
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