Television shows based on crime scene investigations may have increased community awareness of forensic science – but they have also given lawyers, jurors and the general public unrealistic expectations about the discipline.
Dr Adrian Linacre, newly appointed as the inaugural Justice Chair in Forensic DNA Technology at Flinders University, said the popularity of shows such as CSI was a “two-edged sword”.
“Media reports of murder cases and high profile crime quite often refer to the forensic science, which is great – it’s good to have that profile,” Dr Linacre said.
“But the downside is that when you’re giving evidence in court, many people have an unreal perception of what forensic science can do,” he said.
“Nothing ever fails in CSI. You never get a ‘no result’. But in real life, that’s unfortunately what often happens. And in CSI it all happens in a hour.”
Dr Linacre has presented evidence in such high profile cases as the manslaughter of Damilola Taylor, the 10-year-old Nigerian schoolboy who died in Greater London in 2000 after being attacked with a broken beer bottle by two youths.
Since 1994, Dr Linacre has worked at the prestigious Centre for Forensic Science at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, specialising in DNA profiling for human identification and the investigation of wildlife crimes.
“The vast majority of my work is spent on human identification. But I became interested in non-human DNA when I started being presented with ‘associated evidence’, such as a hair sample from a dog or cat,” he said.
“I realised that it was possible to link this evidence with a robbery or a murder.”
Dr Linacre takes up the position of Justice Chair in Forensic DNA Technology, made possible through the financial support of the SA Department of Justice through Forensic Science South Australia (FSSA), in March.
“What really attracted me to Flinders is that, working with FSSA, the University has the opportunity to link teaching, research and real forensic science practice to develop a really strong forensic course. That’s why I’m excited to come over,” he said.