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 January 12, 2021

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I'm 20 years old and studying physics.I now realize that my real passion is forensic science. Would it be possible for me to take a turn and pursue that with a master's degree? What suggestions can you make that will help me pursue forensics?

Asked by Lito over 6 years ago

Any science major is a good thing. The requirements for each lab vary, so if you have a particular location in which you wish to work, you might call all your potential employers and ask what the job requirements are. Then you can decide whether a science degree, a forensic science degree, a masters or a PhD would be best. Also check salaries and decide whether they are sufficient, and be prepared for a lot of competition.

If ejaculate was wiped off a bathroom floor with a sock, and that bathroom was used by other people for showering (humidity/wet floor) and toilet use (bare feet), would the semen still be picked up? Would results be reliable?

Asked by Shahada almost 7 years ago

As far as I know, 1) possibly and 2) yes. Since the area hasn't been specifically and thoroughly cleaned, yes it could still be picked up. And the DNA results should either be reliable or you wouldn't get any results at all. You wouldn't get results that look like someone else's DNA.

Do you have to be a cop before you can become a CSI?

Asked by Miriam about 7 years ago

Not necessarily. I've never been a cop and neither have most of my co-workers. It completely depends on the agency you apply to--some require their CSIs to be sworn officers and some don't.

What possible ramifications might occur if examiners are not impartial?

Asked by Felicia Redecker about 7 years ago

I don't know, but I would guess that it would be similar to any other profession--if you suffer because of their bias or incompetence or even over-eagerness, then you can ask for damages. The way I understand it--and I am not a lawyer--if your doctor says you have a cold and you actually have bronchitis and he gives you antibiotics and you get better, you don't have much of a case. If you tell him you're allergic to penicillin and he gives it to you anyway and you go into a coma, then you do.

So if an investigator doesn't like you and focuses the investigation on you while the real killer gets away, they may get a bad evaluation at work but it's doubtful that anyone could say they would absolutely have caught the real killer if they hadn't been distracted by you. So I doubt the family of the victim could bring civil charges. If your life has been affected,you lost your job, your spouse, neighbors egged your house, then you could probably sue the department for harassment. Every type of investigator has someone they answer to--a boss, a review board, a licensing board, an appeals court. A conviction could be overturned or vacated altogether.

If they focused on you but you really did do it, then you probably don't have a case, even if they only found you because they don't like you.

I'm guessing--and again this is an only-slightly-educated guess--that the deciding factor is how much their bias affected anything that occurred, overall.

And if by 'examiners' you meant medical examiners, specifically, then I would think the opportunity to affect the ultimate outcome would be even more dilute. An autopsy is photographed and witnessed by assistants and often (in homicides) law enforcement. Everything they put in their report can usually be double-checked after the fact. The extent to which they could skew results would be very limited. This is not to say medical examiner's can't be biased--supposedly Dr. Gerber (along with the local paper) biased the Cleveland jury pool against Dr. Sam Sheppard, but that didn't change anything about his testimony or the results of the autopsy. It did get the suspect a new trial, and did bring changes in the laws regarding pre-trial publicity.

Why is blood type only determined by the A and B proteins? Aren't there other proteins on the blood? Why specifically these 2 proteins?

Asked by Adina about 7 years ago

The A and B's are antigens on the surface of the blood cells. There are other antigens (like Rh) but the A & B's are the most important. Why, I couldn't tell you.

can you get fingerprints off a cigar or cigerillo?

Asked by Sam Berretti about 7 years ago

Yes. We would probably use ninhydrin or DFO to treat the wrapping.

How difficult, or possible is it for a state lab to lift prints off a small baggie/residue found in an unattended purse,during a chaotic police raid, possibly handled by several, the prints needing to be good enough to be used as evidence in court?

Asked by pazley about 7 years ago

Wow, that's a really specific question. The answer is: you never know until you try. I don't have a lot of luck with plastic bags but my newer co-workers, who have a little more patience with fluorescent dyes than I do, often get good results. It doesn't matter to the fingerprint whether the purse was unattended or not and it doesn't matter how many people handled it, it matters how they handled it. As long as they picked it up by its very edge, they wouldn't harm anything. So it's perfectly possible to get a decent print off it, but I also would not be at all surprised if I didn't because, as I said, plastic bags are very hit-or-miss. Retrieving fingerprints is largely a matter of luck. That's why we never say never.