Loosely defined, a crime laboratory is a place where forensic science is utilized to scrutinize evidence with a view of solving a crime. Forensic science in this context means that the laboratory combines various sciences and technology to better analyze evidence (Ballard, 2009). Reports or conclusions made from crime laboratories are generally conclusive and admitted as evidence in court (Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc). To such extent, crime laboratories are crucial to any justice system, especially the criminal justice system. Given this central role, it is imperative that a crime laboratory is sufficiently equipped to analyze evidence.
Though services offered by a crime laboratory vary depending on the purpose of its establishment (Buckles, 2007), there are some basic services that any full service laboratory has to offer. These services are offered through five units (Saferstein, 2011). The first unit is a biology unit: its central role is biological science. This is where DNA analysis, blood, and other body fluids tests are carried out. Additionally, botanical matter such as plants, insects, and plants are also analyzed in this unit.
The second unit is the firearms unit which handles ballistics and firearm analysis. Additionally, the unit may also examine clothes as well as persons for firearm discharge. The third unit is the physical science unit. This unit deals with evidence from the crime scene such as foot prints, tire treads and the like. It also analyses the crime scene itself. Here the principles of geology, chemistry, and physics are utilized to analyze the crime scene evidence.
The fourth unit is the photography unit, this analyses and documents material evidence at the scene of crime or at any location of investigation. It also makes photographic exhibits for presentation in court (Saferstein, 2011).The fifth and final unit is the document assessment unit. Here documents, paper, printers of documents, and handwriting are examined to establish genuineness or the source (Saferstein, 2011). Additionally, the unit may also reconstruct burned or charred documents.
Crime laboratories vary in the range of services they offer depending on various factors. Key among these factors is funding and the purpose for the laboratory. In relation to funding, forensic laboratories are relatively expensive in terms of equipment and the personnel. Procuring the best of these two requires financial muscle. Owing to such fact, crime labs invariably offer services depending on the funding allocated.
With respect to purpose, sometimes crime laboratories may be set up for specific purposes. This limits the services they offer to only those relevant to the purpose. For instance, a laboratory set up for drug analyses would not have polygraph units or voice analysis unit. These would be irrelevant to drug analysis and would somehow be a waste of resources. Accordingly, such a laboratory would offer a limited range of services.
Additionally, some crime laboratories are attached or established by law enforcement agencies. In such regard, the range of services they offer will naturally be in line with the crime the agency has jurisdiction over. This means that for example a crime laboratory under the Drug Enforcement Agency would differ from that under the Federal Aviation Administration.
Notwithstanding these disparities, any crime laboratory should have the basic units highlighted above. This is because virtually all crimes involve at least one of the aspects the units handles. The units cover the essential constituents of any crime: a person or body, location, weapon, and document. No crime can take place without either of these constituents. Accordingly, any crime laboratory must be equipped to deal with such, in terms of the services it offers.
Ballard, C. (2009). Crime under the Microscope!: In the Forensic Lab New Jersey: Enslow
Publishers, Inc. Print.
Buckles, T. (2007). Crime Scene Investigation, Criminalistics, and the Law New York: Thomson
Delmar Learning. Print.
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc, 509 U.S. 579 (1993)
Saferstein, R. (2011). Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science (10th Ed) New Jersey:
Prentice - Hall. Print.