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Forensics: The Truth behind the Shows

Updated on May 19, 2014
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A man is found dead with a bullet wound in his chest. Who did it? Since there is blood spatter, a gun, and tire depressions at the scene, this question is best left for the forensics and investigators. At this stage, many people become confused on proper procedures. Many believe that the scene will be investigated by six people, who will collect the evidence, process the evidence at a lab, question the suspects, and arrest the bad guys all in the space of about an hour. I am so sorry to disappoint everyone out there that believes this to be true because, it’s not. Contrary to what many people believe the processing and handling of evidence, the appearance and workings of a corpse, and how forensic evidence, is applied to the criminal justice system in order to catch criminals, is not a quick six person job.

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What Does a Real CSI Do?

The processing and handling of scenes and data fall onto the shoulders of a broad group of forensic scientists. First there are those who process and handle a scene, these scientists are known as Crime Scene Investigators (CSIs). They are responsible for collecting and documenting evidence at crime scenes. Collecting this data isn’t always easy. These scientists are the first to the scene, and CSIs see everything.

These scientists have to get into the gore at crime scene to collect evidence without destroying the evidence in the process, or losing their lunch for that matter. CSIs collect blood, fingerprints, fibers, and objects connected to crimes that need to be analyzed. Everything that is taken from a scene must be documented, including where it was found, what it is or looks like, and the objects distance from the body or another main stationary object. Everything at a scene will be photographed at least three different ways. There can be over a thousand photographs for one crime scene.

Depending on what evidence was found, the evidence will then go to a specific scientist to be processed for further analysis. Blood will go to DNA analysts and toxicologists, the DNA analysts will test for DNA matches, while the toxicologists will look for drugs or other abnormal properties in the blood.

Fingerprints will go to, big surprise here; fingerprint analysts. These analysts will remove fingerprints from objects, run fingerprints through the system, and compare prints.

If a firearm is involved, the firearm will go to firearm analysts. These firearm specialists can tell what kind of firearm that was used, where the firearm was bought, where a person was standing when they shot the firearm, and who or what the shooter was aiming for.

These are just some of the things and some of the forensic scientists involved in processing data from a crime scene, and as this shows forensics is no, tight nit, six man team. There may be six people in every category involved. Unlike television shows, processing data in real life takes a lot longer than an hour. Getting this data can take weeks, even months. This is because the test can be very long, and because there is so much evidence to process, due to the large number of scenes.

Fake Dead Body

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Real Dead Body

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An Autopsy Uncovered

After a person has been pronounced dead, their body will be taken to a morgue, where a Medical Examiner (ME) will perform an autopsy. This can be a gratuitous job, because dead people don’t look like an overly pale person as portrayed on “CSI”. Performing an autopsy is not a one person job. Often times, there is a mortician or medical examiner, a mortician assistant, and a forensic examiner. When performing an autopsy an “H” is cut into the chest not a “Y”. This is because if a “Y” is cut there isn’t any way to properly get to the lower internal organs, but by cutting an “H” a medical examiner can get to it all.

The inside of a corpse is not for everyone, nor is the outside for that matter. Medical examiners have to have a strong stomach, because the sights they encounter everyday are not pleasant. For those people out there that don’t think they’re squeamish because they have seen the dead on “CSI”, think again, dead people are not pretty.

The second a person dies their body starts to decompose, and because of this, they get a very bloated look. This is not just bloating in the stomach that we are talking about; it’s an “all over” bloat. This happens because the body is decomposing, and in the process of decomposition gases are released into the body.

Then we have the floaters. When a person has been dead and floating in a body of water for a couple of days, they do not look like a recently deceased dead person, who is a little wet, as they are shown as on T.V. Forensic workers often describe these bodies as floaters. This is because when a body has been in water for a few days the body’s releases so much gas that the body will float, and oftentimes the body will wash up on shore. This is a sight that people don’t ever want to see or smell. Besides the fact that the body is bloated, it has been exposed to bacteria, fish, and whatever else happens to be in the water at the time. The body will look, well, let’s just say it’s not for the faint hearted.

Often times on “CSI” bodies look like sleeping pale people, piles of bones with some dried flesh, or bodies that are bruised and covered in blood. This deceives people into thinking death does not look too bad. More people have been going into forensics since “CSI” has been on television, but many people drop out because what they believed they would be doing and seeing isn’t the same as on T.V.

Fingerprint Analysis

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DNA Analysis

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Forensic Scientists are Misrepresented on TV

Before we continue there is one thing people must understand. Forensic scientists do not, and I repeat do not, carry guns, question suspects, or make arrests. This is left to the investigators and police.

To put this into perspective, think of forensic scientists as being secretaries. Devoted secretaries who do all the work, because the boss doesn’t have time or because he not paid to do the “manual work” in the office, the secretaries look up the material, type up the material needed, and present the boss with a folder full of all the facts needed for a presentation. Now if the secretaries didn’t do their work, then the bosses couldn’t do theirs.

This is the same with forensics scientists, they process all the data and present it to investigators and police so they can apply the data to cases and catch the criminals. Investigators and police will then use this data to bring in suspects who they will question; the cops will also arrest those who need to be arrested. Forensic data is very helpful to investigators and the police.

Say, for instance, that a body was dumped in the woods, and the only evidence at the scene was the body, tire tracks, and boot prints. Forensic scientists who work in depressions can tell from the tire depressions, the type of tire and what cars use these types of tires. They can also tell from the boot print how heavy a person is, and the make and size of the boot. This will narrow down the search for investigators.

If investigators do find a suspect, then forensics scientists can compare the tire and boot impressions with that of the suspects and even compare soil traces. This can lead to arrest and conviction of suspects by the investigators and judges. Even though forensic scientists are often times portrayed as forensic cops in shows like “CSI”, they’re not. These scientists work in labs or on scenes, they don’t go around with gun interrogating and arresting suspects.

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Truth vs. Fiction

Forensic scientists are dedicated personnel who collect and process evidence, analyze bodies, and give this data to investigators so they can convict criminals. Now that we know what forensic scientists do, we can safely say that these investigations take more than six people, and that they take a lot longer than an hour to solve.

These scientists work very hard, but still test results don’t magically appear out of the air at the convenience of investigators. Bodies don’t appear overly peaceful, and, furthermore, forensic scientists don’t wave guns around making arrests and interrogating suspects. Suspects aren’t always convicted because a hair was on the body, or a little blood was found, but don’t let me misguide people here. Forensic scientists can do a lot with a little evidence. They’re just not superman.

This evidence won’t always convict someone either. Investigators can have all the evidence in the world, but without a match to compare it to, they can’t always find the bad guys. The process of finding these criminals isn’t always fast. An investigation can take months even years to finish. Forensic shows don’t always show the truth. The next time “CSI” is on, think about it. Can that body really look that way after being in a swamp for a week? Can that man be convicted because a red fiber was found at the scene? Do those scientists really make arrests?

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    • Caleb DRC profile image

      Caleb DRC 4 years ago

      Hi Annajazz,

      This was an exciting hub to read. Very INTERESTING! A lot of the stuff you addressed, as expansion of the gases in the body, I never knew. You are the first hubber I've met who knows anything of significance( and accuracy) of this subject.

      This hub should be read by anyone who is planning to do CSI work as a career, because, as you mentioned, it ain't like TV.

    • annajazz profile image
      Author

      Anna Marie 4 years ago from New Mexico

      Thankx Caleb DRC!

      I strive to inform the public about the truths behind the tv shows that people think are the norms.

      As a Forensics Undergraduate the worst thing is having people say, " oh, your a forensic major? So you will be like one of those CSI's on tv?" lol nope, not even close.

    • eirofficial3112 profile image

      zettnoircromwell 3 weeks ago from Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines

      That was good!

      I think I might have an idea what the course I'm going to take would be like.

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