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 August 09, 2021

Best Rated

what type of issues in the forensic science field are still lurking around that cause errors in assumptions or holding progress in a certain study behind

Asked by bob almost 8 years ago

I can't think of anything that's industry-wide. Errors in assumptions can be made at any time by any body--like, I might assume you aren't going to get DNA off a gun trigger because I never have, while a brand-new person might assume you will get it regardless of any other factors because a textbook said it was possible, and we both might be wrong or right in that particular case but not others. So most errors would be made by assuming something can't be done, either because a tech or officer never had any luck with it or because they aren't up with the latest information, which will happen anywhere because no one can keep up with anything. As for study, the only thing holding that back is what's always been holding it back--time and money.  Most of us can barely keep up with our caseload, much less take on a research project, and most government budgets have been battered down to sustenence level. It's getting better as the economy improves, and there are major research projects underway through the various forensic organizations, FBI and NIJ.

Whose payroll are forensic scientists on, the coroner's office, or the police force?

Asked by MissPink over 8 years ago

Not to sound like a smart aleck, but you're on the payroll of whoever you work for--that can be the police department, the state police lab, the coroner's or medical examiner's office, the county sheriff's department, or an independent lab (usually doing DNA). You can also be a sworn officer or a civilian employee of same. Titles are not uniform. When I was at the coroner's office my title was forensic scientist because that was what the coroner said it was. At the police department I was an evidence specialist and then became a forensic specialist after I completed my training for fingerprint analysis. Your title is whatever your boss says it is.

What was your most challenging case?

Asked by bob almost 8 years ago

That's a tough one, because unlike television I don't take it personally whether the case is resolved or not. Again unlike TV, I'm not in charge of the case, the detective is. I'm just a cog. I also don't deal with family or witnesses so I'm sort of emotionally once-removed from the trauma. So the most frustrating cases are those in which I can't find anything that helps. Say the victim and the suspect live in the same house so that any fingerprints or DNA of the suspect is to be expected and doesn't prove anything. Or we have no suspects and fingerprints and DNA at the scene don't match anyone in our system so that's not helping either. So then the most satisfying cases are those in which I find and analyze a piece of evidence that can tell us with certainty who was present or what occurred where. But either way I don't take it personally. I can't control what's there, only what I do with it. Sometimes you're lucky and sometimes you're not.  

What are the hours you work at your work?

Asked by Nikkie about 8 years ago

Right now I'm working 12 hour shifts, from 6 am to 6 pm, working out to 80 hours over 2 weeks. At the coroner's office I worked 7:30 to 4:30 and 8-12 on every other Saturday. When I started here at the police department we did 7:30-4:30 M-F. Then we went to, on opposite weeks, having one person work 10 am - 9 pm M-Th. Now there are more people so my 'shift partner' works noon to midnight. That way someone needs to be on overtime call only from midnight to 6 am. So in other words the hours will be determined by where you work, how many forensic people you have, how big the agency is and how determined they are to keep overtime to a minimum.

I'm working on a thriller novel. Can a person frame someone else by setting up their own suicide to look like murder by using the other person's gun in the other person's house?

Asked by goodcraic2i6n about 8 years ago

Let me get this straight--so Alex frames Bert by shooting himself (Alex) in Bert's house with Bert's gun? Kind of a drastic way to get back at someone, but certainly possible. Yes, initially it would not look good for Bert at all. However--and this is always the problem with trying to frame someone--what is Bert doing while this is happening? Alex can't be sure that Bert won't be getting a traffic ticket or stuck in an all-day meeting and therefore have an unbreakable alibi? The gun and the condition of the wound would have to be consistent with suicide (unless you do some Agatha Christie rubber-band type of arrangement) but that would not make it impossible for it to be homicide. Alex's fingerprints might be on the gun but that wouldn't rule out a murder (and it's so rare to get a fingerprint off a gun that he might decide not to worry about it). Please don't have Bert, upon discovery of the body, engage in the time honored but still silly tradition of picking up the murder weapon and then saying "I have no idea why I did that..." Human beings have an instinctive revulsion against touching anything associated with a dead body.

Does a neighbor see Alex enter Bert's house when Bert's not home? Is there any sign of forced entry? In other words, forensically there may not be much to say one way or the other--and that's very often true. Forensics will establish facts, but those facts might not be helpful. Forensically we can say Alex died of a gunshot wound from this gun, has gunshot residue on his hands (not suprising since he was in close proximity to a gunshot) and has no other wounds to indicate a struggle. That's about it. Deciding whether it's suicide or murder would likely spring from more traditional investigations--what was Alex doing there, did he know where the gun is, where was Bert, did Bert have a history of violence, did Alex have a history of mental instability, etc. etc.

I hope that helps!

How does 260mg/100g of liver tissue translate into for a BAC number? is is .26 or .026 or .0026? Got a bet going--thanks.

Asked by auntiev almost 8 years ago

I do not know! So I asked the local M. E. investigator, who said:

It would be .26….

If this is liver, then I presume you’re talking about a decomp… and if you’re talking about a decomp, then keep in mind that the process of decomposition will raise the ethanol level in the body anyway so some physicians don’t even consider liver tissue entirely accurate when looking at alcohol.

Say a criminal parent drowns a child in the bathtub of their home, then buries the body (FL). How long could the body show evidence of drowning (foam in air passages, water in lungs, etc)before decomposition destroyed that evidence?

Asked by Meg almost 8 years ago

Unfortunately, same answer as above--you really need a pathologist to answer that. But I will ask the M.E. investigator when she gets back to me on the BAC question!

Okay, she said:

Welllllll….. that one’s trickier. Drowning is often a ‘diagnosis of exclusion’ so you may NEVER see evidence of drowning, even moments after death (although we look for foam in the airway and fluid in the sinuses to corroborate investigation findings). The mere process of burial could potentially destroy any pertinent evidence that would exist in a drowning, even if decomp hasn’t begun by the time the body is “dug up”. Now in a child, we’d look for petechiae, bruises (that you can only see by removing the skin), torn frenulam, etc.…