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 October 17, 2017

Best Rated

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

Asked by shunlegg about 4 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.

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 4 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.

In your professional opinion is a degree (undergrad) in biology favored over a degree in forensic science?

Asked by Denise Olivas over 4 years ago

No, I wouldn't say so. I never use a lot of what I learned in biology on the job. It depends much more on where the degree is from, how many years it took, and how much practical experience in crime scene and lab work was included in the curriculum. You might want to call the crime labs you'd want to work at and ask what kind of degrees their employes have.

What's the most important thing forensic science can do today that it couldn't do 5 years ago?

Asked by ChrisnMike over 4 years ago

I would say 'touch DNA', which means get a DNA sample from the sweat, oils, and amino acids left by simply touching something. We now routinely collect swabs from steering wheels, gun triggers and tool handles. That doesn't mean they always have sufficient DNA to do anything with, but surprisingly often they do.

And something else I always wondered. Just HOW MUCH of a fingerprint is unique to every human? If someone leaves only a partial print, e.g. a 1/4 of a thumbprint, is THAT unique to him and only him?

Asked by Sascha over 4 years ago

Every part of a fingerprint is unique to the person. Whether the latent print has sufficient information to identify it to a person depends on its clarity and volume and the experience of the examiner. There's usually more activity around the center of the finger pad than at the edges or the tip, for example. But exactly how much of what type of information an examiner needs to make an identification--unfortunately there's no simple answer for that. Fingerprints aren't like DNA, there's no handy table of X allele plus Y allele times population data, so there's no neat way to quantify it. On this topic, my pet peeve: When characters on TV say "It's just a partial." Unless your perpetrator stood at the crime scene and rolled his fingertip over something, from one edge of the nail to the other, then EVERY latent print is a partial!

What's the worst mistake you've ever heard of a forensic scientist making at a crime scene?

Asked by JoyLuck over 4 years ago

That's a tough one. I've had cops put tools back into pry marks to show that they fit and unload weapons to make them 'safe' (which is an okay idea under certain circumstances, but usually not). I did something really stupid just a few days ago--after we had painstakingly located some spent casings in thick grass, I put a marker down, took a picture, then took the marker and went back to my car to get an envelope  for the casings. Doh! Luckily another CSI standing there hadn't taken her eyes off them. A good 15 years ago at my lab an old-school trace evidence person took the shorts from a decomposed body and washed them in order to read the tag info...I remember the look of horror on the cops' faces when I had to tell them that all the hair and fiber and other trace evidence had been washed down the drain. Happily it didn't matter, the victim's boyfriend was convicted anyway.

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 4 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.