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Forensic trace evidence – what are the questions we need to answer?

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FOSW01 - The nature of questions arising in court that can be addressed via probability and statistical methods

Trace evidence has been under significant scrutiny and in the last two years the resources allocated to make use of intelligence and evidence trace evidence can offer crime reconstructions have been significantly reduced in the UK.   However, the value of trace evidence is significant, and there is a growing body of research being undertaken to ensure that it has the appropriate empirical evidence bases for the application of the classification of trace materials into forensic reconstruction contexts.  This research is focussed in two critical areas: 1. Enhancing our understanding of the dynamics of trace evidence within different environments and 2. Understanding the role of cognition in the interpretation of such evidence, so that together the weight and significance of specific forms of trace evidence can be established in a robust, transparent, and reproducible manner.  The importance of asking the most appropriate questions to ensure that trace evidence can offer investigators and the criminal justice system the most robust inferences as to the significance of a trace material can not be overstated.  In order to identify the characteristics of these questions, four aspects need to be considered: 1.  The importance of situating evidence within a holistic forensic science process (from crime scene to court); 2. The importance of taking an exclusionary approach in the comparison and analysis of trace evidence to infer provenance; 3. The importance of an empirical underpinning for assessing and expressing the weight of evidence in uncertainty; 4. The interaction of different lines of evidence within a forensic reconstruction.  This presentation will outline some of the questions it is important for trace evidence to answer with specific reference to environmental evidence.

This talk is part of the Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series series.

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