Justice is a fundamental value of humanity that persists in all cultures, civilizations, and legal systems. ‘La Principe de Legality’, a French phrase that means the principle of legality has given rise to rule of law. Rule of law in a broad sense means that Law is supreme and above all individual. A crime in any form undermines the rule of law and hence, prevention of crime and development of fair, humane, accountable justice systems play a vital role in strengthening the rule of law. Access to justice is considered a means to protect other universally recognized human rights. It involves several steps starting from identifying crime scene dimensions’, police investigations, court proceedings and judgments, and convictions.
Science is constantly expanding and with this, there has been a remarkable role of forensic science in solving crimes and rendering justice. Forensic science is the application of science to those criminal and civil laws that are enforced by police agencies in a criminal justice system. It deals with the application of the methodology of various aspects of science to legal matters. Forensic science helps in the interrogation of a suspect, victim and even witnesses to get to the bottom of truth. A number of techniques have come into practice like forensic toxicology, impression and pattern evidence, trace evidence and ballistics. These help in establishing vital links between suspects to a crime scene. For instance, a soil sample obtained from a victim’s shoes can give critical information on location of the crime. Cyber forensic which involves study of evidence found in computers and digital storage media. It aims to identify record, preserve and present the facts and opinions about digital information. It is used for investigation of cyber crimes and civil proceedings. It has been used in criminal law since the mid 1980s.
In India, the investigation and prosecution of criminals are rather deplorable. Hefty numbers of criminals are not prosecuted and trials end up in acquittal. Thus, the wide and diverse nature of forensic science has proven it to be the need of the hour and an indispensable part of the criminal justice system.
Role of Forensic science in crime detention
The legal system widely recognizes the role of forensic science in the trial of criminal offenders. The application of scientific methods ensures that there is legitimacy in the justice rendered. Detectives and law enforcement agencies collect the evidence, first hand which can either be physical or digital. The following evidence is then sent to the forensics for analysis which helps to establish facts about a case admissible in the court of law.
Forensic pathologists are skilled at determining the cause of death by performing autopsies. An autopsy is a process of examination of the body tissues and fluids which help to establish the cause and manner of death. Forensic scientists and professionals further study and analyze the evidence (fingerprints, blood, etc) collected from the crime scene to identify suspects. The use of fingerprinting in the identification of crime suspects was first advocated by Sir William Herschel. Fingerprint evidence was first accepted in an Argentine court in the 1890s and an English court in 1902. A very important aspect of identifying suspects is by getting to know the psychology behind the mind of a criminal, popularly known as criminal profiling. This was first used back in 1888 and is originally used and adapted by the FBI. Criminal profiling helps forensic scientists to narrow down suspects by determining a criminal's patterns and personality. It involves deep analysis of the crime scene, analyzing the incident and drawing comparisons from the past, evaluation and background check of the victim, and considering all the possible motives. This leads to formulating a complete social and psychological assessment of the offender. Neurological tests such as psychological detection of deception; commonly known as lie detector and brain mapping has revolutionized the police investigations.
Furthermore, forensic science not only facilitates convicting those guilty of a crime but also can pardon the innocent. With the advancement of DNA technology, a criminal can be found purely on the basis of information and scientific evidence that is left at the crime scene.
Legal provisions for forensic analysis in crime investigation
Despite the exceptional contribution of forensic science to the criminal justice system, it stands the limitations of the law. There have been a lot of debates and questions on the legitimacy of forensic techniques and their usefulness in crime investigations.
According to article 20(3) of the Indian constitution, no person accused of any offense shall be compelled to be a witness against himself. It is based upon the presumption by the law that the accused person is innocent till proved guilty. This provides protection to the accused from possible mental torture or agony during detention. Article 11 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “ Right to the presumption of innocence” states that "Everyone charged with a penal Offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to the law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.
Article 20(3) of the constitution of India guarantees the fundamental right against self-incrimination and guards against forcible testimony of any witness. This is applicable only in cases where compulsion is used and not against voluntary statements or disclosure. This ensures that no person is bound to answer any questions or produce any document that would expose the person to the conviction of a crime.
Section 73 of the Indian Evidence Act gives authority to the court to direct any person including an accused to allow his finger impressions to be taken. The Supreme Court held that being compelled to give fingerprints does not violate the constitutional safeguards of Article 20(3).
There were a lot of debates and queries as to whether forensic evidence violates article 20(3) of the Indian constitution. In The State of Bombay v. KathiKaluOghad& Others, 13 the court held that giving thumb impression, specimen signature, blood, hair, semen, etc. by the accused do not amount to 'being a witness' within the meaning of the said Article. The accused, therefore, has no right to object to DNA examination for investigation and trial.
Furthermore, questioning on Narco-analysis and its evidence admissible in court arose. The Bombay High Court in another significant verdict in the case of, Ramchandra Reddy and Ors. v. State of Maharashtra upheld the legality of the use of truth serum or narco analysis. The verdict also maintained that the evidence procured under the effect of truth serum is also admissible. However, in the case of Selvi & Ors v. State of Karnataka & Anr, Supreme Court held that brain mapping and polygraph tests were inconclusive and thus their compulsory usage in crime investigations would be unconstitutional.
Section 53 of the Criminal Procedure Code 1976 provides for examination of the accused by a medical practitioner at the request of a police officer. This states that "upon arrest, an accused person may be subjected to a medical examination if there are 'reasonable grounds for believing that such examination will afford evidence as to the crime." The extent of this was further expanded in 2005 which included "the examination of blood, bloodstains, and semen, in case of sexual offenses, sweat, hair samples and fingernail clippings by the use of scientific techniques including DNA profiling which the practitioner thinks necessary in a particular case. However, this section applies to rape cases only. In-State of NCT Delhi v. Sujeet Kumar, a case of brutal rape of a four-year-old girl child living in a slum was investigated by Delhi police and DNA profiling was used to link the perpetrator with the act of sexual violence. The court approved the investigation findings based upon DNA reports and other shreds of evidence and held the accused guilty.
Section 164A of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides for "medical examination of a woman who is an alleged victim of rape within 24 hours including DNA profiling of the woman". Evidence from a medical forensic exam can be key in the prosecution of a sexual assault case. “A study conducted in 1999 found a relationship where the victims’ injuries were seen as one of the most significant predictors in the decision to prosecute in no stranger cases.”
Forensic science is an advantage in the conveyance of justice without delay. It requires an "expert" to put before the court all the pieces of equipment with explanations which led to a certain conclusion. However, the court can completely disagree with the conclusions drawn by the expert and depend on other evidence for the final judgment.
Restrictive use of Forensic science in the Indian Legal system
Forensic investigations are known for their accuracy and legitimacy. They bring about the certainty of either guilt or innocence. For a long period, the courts were dependent on non-scientific evidence due to the lack of proper technology. According to a study conducted by Supreme courts and High courts in 2011, only 47 cases were found where DNA played a crucial role. Out of these, 23.4% of decisions were given by the Delhi high court alone. DNA evidence was merely used in 4.7% of murder cases and 2.3% of rape and murder cases.
The committee on Reforms of the Criminal Justice system also signifies that the present stage of applicability of forensic science in crime scene investigation is low in our country, with only 5-6% of the registered crime cases being referred to the Forensic Science Laboratories and Finger Print Bureau put together. The unwillingness of courts to use forensic evidence in crime scene investigation was initially due to unprofessional conduct of physical evidence which included improper collection and preservation of evidence, non-maintenance of the chain of custody, and negligence in dispatching of physical evidence for scientific analysis.
In India, the first official forensic science laboratory was established in 1878. Over the years, there has been a notable rise in the number of forensic and crime laboratories in the country. This increase can be attributed to the rising importance of forensic science in criminal justice and the ever-growing forensic disciplines. However, with millions of cases still pending in courts across India, the need for more forensic labs and qualified forensic professionals is very high. Forensic laboratories are a part of police setup which causes hindrance and lacks absolute independence. Forensic laboratories lack manpower and infrastructure which thus, affects the accuracy and efficiency of the forensic reports.
“The Malimath Committee recommended that more well-resourced laboratories should be established to handle DNA samples and evidence, as well as a particular rule should be enacted giving guidelines to the police setting uniform standards, 41 for attaining genetic information and generating adequate safeguards to prevent misuse of the same”. Lately, Justice Verma Committee laid down the need for proper storage and preservation of DNA samples, especially in sexual assault cases.
With advancements in science and technology, forensic science has become an inseparable part of legal affairs. The main aim of the criminal justice system is to enforce standards of conduct, deliver fair and unbiased justice and ensure the protection of individuals and with the advent of forensic techniques; it has brought more legitimacy and authenticity to our justice system. The reluctance of courts in using forensics can be eliminated by introducing laws and making amendments to the existing laws. Law universities should give their students appropriate knowledge about the importance and applicability of forensic science in criminal investigations and trials. A better coordination of the police force and forensic experts will help in transitioning from a restrictive approach to a more emancipative approach. Moreover, law enforcement and investigative communities once again recognize and use forensic science to its full potential as a holistic problem-solving tool. Acts have been enforced in the US, Canada and Australia to improve the approaches in forensic science. This ensures that crimes are detected with certainty and consequently, conviction rates can increase. This places a great emphasis on quality management of the crime scene. Evidence has a voice; we need to ensure its heard and fair justice is achieved.