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Physical Evidence in Criminology Essay

Crime is still a part of human life, and thousands of people are injured or even killed every day. Criminals commit crimes and often try to conceal their actions, but there are still various tracks that enable the criminal justice system to locate criminals and prove their guilt. These tracks can be of different types as they can be pattern evidence, weapons or parts of arms, clothes or fragments of garments, and so on. These track mainly referred to as physical evidence. Physical evidence can be defined as “any type of tangible evidence as opposed to something such as the testimony of an eyewitness” (Bell, 2012, p. 208). Bell (2012) stresses that to be presented in the court and be a sound piece of evidence, physical evidence “must be documented, collected, marked, transported, and stored” in a specific manner that depends on the type of evidence.

One of the most widespread types of physical evidence is the so-called pattern evidence. These include fingerprints, as well as shoeprints or footprints, tire prints, tool marks, and handwriting (Siegel, 2011). These types of proofs are called ‘pattern’ as they share some features in common. It is necessary to note that technology plays an important role in the identification of patterns, and numerous automated fingerprint identification system exist (Strengthening forensic science in the United States: A path forward, 2009).

At the same time, people still analyze the pairs that are characterized by a significant likelihood of matching. Thompson, Tangen, and McCarthy (2013) note that the court relies on experts’ decisions when it comes to the analysis of physical evidence. Importantly, this reliance is often questionable due to various errors experts have made. Taylor, Laber, Kish, Owens, and Osborne (2016) also analyze the way experts draw their conclusions and claim that although experts become very conservative in many cases and try to be absolutely sure in their reasoning, they still make mistakes that can often ruin people’s lives. One of the major downsides of this method is that experts rely on their experience, skills, and knowledge, which can be insufficient for making the right decision. More so, in some cases, experts’ decisions can be biased as they can be aware of the conclusions of other professionals (Siegel, 2011).

As far as the case in question is concerned, police can obtain several types of physical evidence, and fingerprints are one of these. Criminalists find several latent fingerprints on some surfaces in the bar. The latent fingerprint is “strictly defined” as fingerprints that are invisible or hardly visible (Bell, 2012, p. 148). Nonetheless, any type of fingerprints (irrespective of their visibility) is referred to as latent at present (Bell, 2011). Dactyloscopy is the science that studies fingerprints and other “friction ridge structures” (Siegel, 2011, p. 49). Ridgeology is the ridge analysis utilized to compare this type of pattern evidence. It is necessary to note that footprints and tire prints are also analyzed using the methods of dactyloscopy.

It is noteworthy that there are many forensic science laboratories in the USA. One of the peculiarities of the American system of justice is that police departments order (and pay for) any types of tests. There are around 400 forensic science laboratories in the country. They are mainly funded by the government (state or federal). At that, defendants also have an opportunity to order some tests. Most forensic science laboratories have a section that focuses on physical evidence (or even concentrates on latent fingerprints, in particular).

The laboratory criminalists may use an automated fingerprint identification system to find possible matches. The use of technology makes the process faster and more efficient as people can focus on a limited number of pairs instead of looking through all existing samples. However, technology is not used to analyze the prints that are most likely to match. The expert analyzes manually pairs that are the most likely to match to identify whether they are identical. They focus on ridges and some other features including shape or size.

Apart from the fingerprints, criminalists should also analyze the bloody footprints found by the door of the bar. It is necessary to note that the analysis of this type of evidence is similar to the one mentioned above (Brown & Davenport, 2012). Experts should identify whether the footprints match with the footwear of the suspect. The same section of the forensic science laboratory usually analyzes this type of physical evidence. The size, the shape as well as ridges of the footprint and the footwear will be considered. Clearly, this type of evidence is not as informative and relevant as the analysis of fingerprints that are unique and prove the person’s presence in this or that place. The footprint can only serve as an additional piece of evidence since there are always chances that someone else could wear the suspect’s footwear that day. Nonetheless, the availability of different types of pattern evidence can help the police locate the suspect and prove their guilt.

At that, the bloody footprints can also provide another type of evidence. The analysis of DNA can also help prove the guilt of the criminal (Siegel, 2011). Thus, the blood of the victim should be analyzed, and it is important to identify whether the footprint contains the blood of the victim (or, maybe, the blood of the criminal as well if he was injured). The examination of the suspect’s footwear can also reveal the victim’s DNA. The criminal could forget or fail to remove the victim’s blood from the footwear. At the same time, the footprint can belong to a patron who was an eyewitness, which can also help as the vast majority of eyewitnesses left the crime scene before the police arrived. Nevertheless, the number of existing eyewitnesses can be enough, and there can be no need in looking for more witnesses.

Another pattern evidence that criminalists can analyze is the tire print left in the parking lot. The physical evidence section or the section of latent prints of the forensic science laboratory can concentrate on the analysis of this type of evidence (Siegel, 2011). Tire prints can help police prove that the criminals were at the crime scene. Obviously, this will not be the central piece of evidence, but it can also help the police to recreate the picture of the crime. The experts will analyze the tire print and the tires of the suspect’s car. If they are identical, the police will prove that the suspect’s car was there that night.

Finally, it is also necessary to use other physical evidence. Michelle claims that she has some threatening letters written by Joe. Therefore, it is important to identify whether it was Joe who wrote the letters. The analysis of handwriting can answer this question. The section of physical evidence often includes experts specializing in the analysis of handwriting (Siegel, 2011).

The task of the expert is to identify whether the handwriting in the letters and in some papers belonging to Joe are identical. During the analysis, the expert will focus on the peculiarities of the handwriting, the size of particular letters, some features peculiar for that handwriting. It has been acknowledged that people’s handwriting is quite unique as each person writes in quite a unique way (pressing the pen in some places, making letters of different sizes, using some peculiar signs, and so on) (Siegel, 2011). Sometimes individuals may try to feign someone’s handwriting, but this is quite difficult, and an expert can still reveal the fraud.

In conclusion, it is possible to note that the crime in question is associated with the availability of several types of physical evidence including fingerprints, footprints, tire prints, handwriting, and DNA of the victim. Criminalists can analyze these pieces of evidence and come to a conclusion concerning the individual who committed the crime. It is necessary to add that the use of technology makes the process faster, more efficient, and cost-effective, but the reliance on experts’ skills and experience is still regarded as one of the most significant downsides of the process. There are still quite many errors as experts may lack the necessary knowledge or experience and can be biased. At the same time, the more pieces of evidence are found, the more chances of finding and punishing the right person exist.


Bell, S. (2012). A dictionary of forensic science. New York, NY: OUP Oxford.

Brown, R., & Davenport, J. (2012). Forensic science: Advanced investigations. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Siegel, J. (2011). Forensic science at work. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group.

Strengthening forensic science in the United States: A path forward. (2009). Washington, D.C.: The National Academies.

Taylor, M., Laber, T., Kish, P., Owens, G., & Osborne, N. (2016). The reliability of pattern classification in bloodstain pattern analysis, part 1: Bloodstain patterns on rigid non-absorbent surfaces. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 61(4), 922-927.

Thompson, M., Tangen, J., & McCarthy, D. (2013). Expertise in fingerprint identification. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 58(6), 1519-1530.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Physical Evidence in Criminology'. 28 August.

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