Forensic Scientist

Forensic Scientist

LIsa Black

Cape Coral, FL

Female, 49

I spent the five happiest years of my life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office I analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now I'm a certified latent print examiner and CSI for a police department in Florida. I also write a series of forensic suspense novels, turning the day job into fiction. My books have been translated into six languages.

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Last Answer on September 20, 2018

Best Rated

Do fingerprints contain DNA? And if so, then isn't fingerprinting kind of obsolete, since you can just test the DNA instead of the print?

Asked by Sascha over 5 years ago

The skin cells sloughed off and left in a fingerprint contain DNA, but there's no guarantee that there will be a sufficient amount to obtain a DNA profile so it's a risk to go straight to DNA testing instead of developing the fingerprint. Besides, identical twins will have the same DNA but different fingerprints.

My girlfriend's condo was broken into, but the cops said it wasn't a big enough deal to check for fingerprints. Who makes that decision, and can I hire a forensic scientist privately to do that?

Asked by Marc over 5 years ago

I apologize to your girlfriend on behalf of the law enforcement community. No one should ever be told that their crime is not 'a big enough deal.' Even if the responding person thinks that, and I'm not saying we don't sometimes, you would think they'd have better sense than to say so. Unfortunately you had a lazy cop who didn't want to get his hands dirty--or, truly, that could be an unofficial policy taught to rookies by other lazy cops who don't want to get their hands dirty. OR it could be the policy of the latent prints department who want to limit their caseload so they won't accept cases that had a claim less than X amount of dollars. So it's hard to know where it came from, but it's still wrong. Anyone who's burglarizing a condo is burglarizing plenty of other places as well and it would benefit everyone in town if they were caught. It would only take ten or fifteen minutes to throw some powder on at least the point of entry and any smooth and glossy surfaces the burglar had to have touched (bearing in mind that knocked over is not the same as touched) such as a mirrored medicine cabinet or a glossy lacquered jewelry box. Now if she's positive the perpetrator is her ne'er do well stepson who lives there (so that it is technically not burglary) or she realizes the burglary happened 3 weeks ago and she didn't check her jewelry until now or some such circumstances as that, or if the door had been left standing open and the only item disturbed is fabric-covered so it won't hold prints, I can understand not processing for prints, but they still should explain that. That said, burglaries are my LEAST favorite task at my job, but that's because I'm lazy and hate getting my hands dirty.

I'm currently in the Navy and looking into taking college courses towards forensics but I do have a charge of accessory after the fact to a felony in 2002. (Closed file) Would this hinder my ability to obtain a career in this field? If so how badly?

Asked by jwalk over 5 years ago

I honestly have no idea, and suspect it would depend on where you are applying--whatever the hiring agency's policies are. I'll ask my boss and get back to you.

 

OKAY! I finally asked my supervisor about this, and unfortunately the news is not too encouraging. If you were found guilty of a felony, you might have a real problem getting a job with a law enforcement agency. But just because the crime was a felony doesn't necessarily mean that was your charge, you could been found guilty of first degree misdemeanor or some lesser charge, and that might not preclude you from employment. Also, smaller agencies might be willing to waive this exclusion especially with military experience. And this is only in the event that you were convicted. If you were simply charged with the crime but not convicted, then most likely it isn't a problem at all. The only way to know for sure is to ask a few of the places you'd be interested in working at and see what they say.

what would change a corpse hair from highlighted blonde to an orange red in an african american?

Asked by shunlegg almost 5 years ago

I don't know, unless the corpse lay in bleach or some other chemical that would react with the bleach in the hair. Dark hair can (I know from personal experience) turn kind of orangy when you try to lighten it. Otherwise hair does not change much either while living or dead.

Have you ever read Stiff by Mary Roach? I loved it, so interesting. What are your favorite non-fiction books about forensic anatomy?

Asked by Gwen over 5 years ago

No, I have not. I don't really have any favorites about forensic anatomy in particular, though I borrow Postmortem by Koehler & Wecht from my co-worker often. I also liked the books by Dr. Michael Baden and Dr. Thomas Noguchi. My favorite forensics book is probably Colin Beavan's Fingerprints.

Even if testing doesn't produce a database MATCH, can you tell from a fingerprint or DNA whether it belongs to a man or woman, age, race, etc?

Asked by Luisa Henson about 5 years ago

From a fingerprint, no. From DNA, not age but they can probably make estimates that the sample likely belongs to a particular racial profile. They can also look for markers from the Y chromosome to determine gender. However I don't know if they necessarily see all these loci in every analysis. Usually in DNA testing you have samples from the crime scene, the victim and the suspect, and we want to know if this sample matches either the victim or the suspect, period. So they most likely don't test for the other factors unless requested. But I am not a DNA analyst so I could be wrong--they could be able to tell all sorts of things that they don't put in the reports because it's not relevent to our particular case.

I never understood how they establish time of death weeks after someone died. Are there biological processes that take place WEEKS after death with enough consistency to allow you to pinpoint time-of-death to within a few hours / days?

Asked by HammerPants over 5 years ago

I'm sorry but you'd really have to ask a pathologist, this is not my area. I imagine it would depend a lot on the individual situation--the environment, temperature, humidity. Insect activity can be pretty accurate. But I believe that pinpointing to a few hours after someone has been dead for weeks only happens on TV.