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Is forensic science based on fact or fiction?

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Forensics: exact science or dramatised fiction? #16

forensic evidence

In the 15 articles of this series preceding this last article, I have shown at great length that so-called numerous forensic methods are just laboratory techniques and not rigorous science.

To sum up the fraud of forensics, I call upon the people of this country to not get carried away with misconceptions and wrong notions fostered by TV serials and films. In the interest of justice, they must learn to regard forensic evidence with deep suspicion.

Because forensics is not rigorous science, its results and conclusions are misleading at best and wrong at worst. For the courts to believe in them as the ultimate, infallible truth is disastrous to the cause of justice, more so, because the damage is often irreversible.

A mistake or mischief committed in a post mortem of a Hindu dead body, for example, cannot be undone. Once the body is cremated, the evidence is incinerated with it. If a mistake or mischief is committed in the chemical analysis of viscera, for example, and the viscera destroyed thereafter, means that nothing can be done thereafter.

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The business of forensics must be stripped of the ‘undeserving aura’, which they have assumed by themselves for the simple reason that hitherto no one had challenged them. For a quick recap, the hyperlinks of the previous articles in the series are given below:

  1. Forensics: exact science or dramatised fiction? #1
  2. Post mortem reports – the big farce, justifying untruth
  3. Ballistics- evidence at Gunpoint
  4. Rape: forensic science’s error leads to injustice
  5. Brain fingerprinting: peeping into the suspect’s mind?
  6. Narco-Tests: The truth behind the ‘Truth Serum’
  7. Drowning death: the forensic hoax
  8. Lie-Detector Test- so near, yet so FAR from TRUTH
  9. Death by hanging: ignorance, suicide or murder?
  10. Guns, bullets & wounds- the ‘hole’ truth
  11. Are DNA tests infallible?
  12. Fingerprint analysis- science or ‘medical palmistry’?
  13. Are footprints, tyres or tool marks reliable evidence?
  14. Are hair, fibre, and paint samples– acceptable evidence?
  15. Glass, paint, soil & questioned documents analysis

Generally, most of these laboratory techniques have serious, in-built scientific limitations. They cannot yield results with a certainty that is usually claimed for them. They are prone to give both false-positive and false-negative results. Even under the best of circumstances with highly qualified personnel too, the best they can speak of is in terms of ‘class characteristics’ and not ‘individual characteristics’. They cannot identify a person as the source of some evidence to the exclusion of all others.

Lack of professional integrity

The Aarushi murder case judgment was a classic example of the mischief done by the doctors who conducted post mortem. In the end, everything hangs from the slender thread of a thing called ‘integrity’.

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A purple colour pillow cover was seized from the room of one of the domestic servants Krishna and another pillow along with pillow cover seized from the room of Hemraj were sent for a DNA test. As livelaw.in reported the CDFD (Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics), Hyderabad submitted their report in due course. Three years after that, the IO A.G.L. Kaul wrote a letter to CDFD. In that letter, described by the High Court as ‘clearly suggestive’, he almost ‘ordered’ the CDFD that there might be a typographical error in their report. In other words, while the report was correct, it carried the wrong name. The horror of horrors, the CDFD obliged him immediately and issued a clarification accordingly and admitted that the DNA belonged to someone else! Then they built up a false story to justify this—that the two items had got interchanged!

The High Court pointed out that to cover up the lie, the investigating authorities had deliberately not filed the photographs of these exhibits. The High Court also took note of the testimony of the scientific expert SPR Prasad. He unequivocally admitted that all the 56 exhibits, which were examined at CDFD Hyderabad, were properly sealed in CDFD stationary along with proper seals. He informed that all his seals had been broken, all his envelopes had been torn open and he could not say who had broken broke these seals, who had torn open the envelopes, when this was done and why this was done.

In the Jessica Lal murder case (1999), Jessica Lal who was working as a celebrity barmaid at a crowded social party was shot dead. Astonishingly, in spite of there being strong circumstantial evidence, the accused Manu Sharma was acquitted by the trial Court.

The acquittal had hinged mainly upon the ballistic report. It advanced the two-weapon theory, which outrageously suggested that the shots were fired by someone else on the ground. It needs little imagination to understand that such a report could be given at the behest of the powerful accused only, who was the son of a wealthy and influential Congress-nominated member of parliament from Haryana. The Supreme Court was critical of the ‘vague’ ballistic report, which said that it appeared that the two cartridge cases are from two different pistols. Rejecting it, the Court said that such a vague opinion of the expert could neither be relied upon nor there could be any basis to come to a conclusion that there were two persons who had fired two different shots. He was convicted for murder in appeal.

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In this case, the firearm was not recovered. The Court held that the accused Manu Sharma could not take the benefit of non-recovery of his firearm saying this defence was an afterthought as he had failed to intimate the magistrate or the police about the fate of the licensed weapon.

“The only inevitable conclusion that could be reached from the said turn of events is that the pistol was still in the custody of the accused and had never been recovered by the police from his farmhouse,” the Court said. The non-recovery of the pistol, obviously because the police wanted to help the accused, was one of the main reasons for acquittal by the trial Court.

Lack of professional competence

In the preceding articles, I have shown with the authority of a battery of reputed scientists and their peer-reviewed works that those forensics are a fraud.

Unfortunately, in India, this fraud has gone on unchecked for decades because the legal fraternity of defence lawyers upon whom rests the burden of exposing this hoax does not really know much about such things. Hence, generally, they demurely accept whatever the self-styled forensic expert says. It is only rarely that their bluff is called.

I must lay emphasis on the choice of the word ‘self-styled’ for these people. These people do not deserve to be called scientists—most of them do not have doctorates in the respective disciplines and have hardly ever conducted any research of their own, as evident from a total lack of any peer-reviewed publications.

To illustrate the point, I must cite the case of State vs. Md. Mukhtar Ahmad Khan (2012). In this case, the police had claimed seizure of ‘yellow-coloured oil-based explosive’. During the trial, the police story fell apart.

The so-called explosives expert examined by the Delhi Police Special Cell was found to be qualified in physics and was not even a chemistry graduate! No wonder then that the report submitted by him was cryptic and did not indicate the purity percentage of explosives in the sample. He was not even aware of the classification of explosives into different classes under Schedule I of the Explosive Rules! All he knew was that explosives were of two types: High and low! Further, the tests conducted by the CSFL were primitive and obsolete. The Court felt it unsafe to rely on the “expertise and opinion” of the expert. The so-called forensic expert conceded that he prepared the report only on those parameters as dictated by the IO, failing to check the said sample for its strength, density, intensity, velocity, quality, temperature and percentage of its composition. The Court thus also questioned his independence. The Court had no hesitation in concluding that the expert report was clandestinely prepared in a hurried manner.

Only the legal fraternity and the judiciary can redeem the situation

I wrote this series of articles to educate the public in general and the legal fraternity in particular. They must realize that their ignorance is resulting in the murder of justice. They must also remember that the conceited cops and the forensic people have a vested interest in perpetuating their ignorance. 

Given all these frailties, follies and foibles of forensic techniques, the ultimate responsibility of delivering justice rests upon the Courts and the legal fraternity. I call upon the legal fraternity to rise to the occasion and educate themselves.

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Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd)
Dr N C Asthana IPS (Retd) has been DGP Kerala and served as ADG CRPF and BSF. He is the author of 46 books and 76 research papers including seven books on military science, defense, and strategy. His latest book is ‘State Persecution of Minorities and Underprivileged in India’ where he has discussed the denial of justice through abuse of forensics in detail. The views expressed are his own.

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