“Modern Forensic Science In Crisis”

For forty seasons, Nova has been bringing viewers documentaries showcasing a myriad of subjects. The fortieth season included the episode entitled Forensics On Trial. The reliance on forensics literally makes the crime drama genre possible. In Forensics on Trial, the spotlight turns to the real-life science and its possible pitfalls.

Forensics on Trial is divided into five briskly moving segments. First up is a discussion of fingerprint analysis. Using the Madrid bombing of 2004 as a backdrop, the show details how a commonly held belief — that all fingerprints are unique — is up for debate. The segment ends with a look at a possible new technology which could give more detail, and thus more accuracy, to future fingerprint collections.

Next up is an unsolved 1991 murder in upstate New York and how the science of bite mark analysis isn’t science as much as art. There was no new technology to ooh and ahh over on this one. Following that brief bit is a look into the use of both CT and MRI scans. Both of these technologies combine to produce a 3D image which can be used for a virtual autopsy. This provides both a greater range of findings as well as a longer-lasting composite which can be revisited forever.

Then we learn every aspect of forensic science is open to error simply due to its reliance on human interpretation. The lack of an abundance of hard science has left the field open to critics who want to remove as much of the human element from crime-solving as possible. The main argument is that a lack of standard forensic practices across the country leaves evidence open not only to interpretation but also corruption. The ease with which evidence can be compromised is brought home with a look at the Nicole Brown Simpson murder. The show posits O.J. Simpson was found not guilty because the defense put the evidence on trial and showcased the possibility it was mishandled.

The show closes with a short segment featuring the integration of video game technology with laser mapping. This new technology will be able to provide a map of crime scenes without unnecessary police presence.

Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the visuals offer a nice even palette without too much saturation, holding its own with currently broadcast shows. The audio is simple Dolby 2.0 Stereo, but it doesn’t need to be more than that and I found it more than serviceable. English SDH subtitles are included for the hearing impaired, and there are no special features.

So many shows rely on forensic science that to call into question the real-life application is jarring, but the show does a good job presenting a balanced picture, neither defending nor decrying the subject matter. I came away feeling like I learned something without completely losing my faith in forensics, so I count it as a win. This is an admittedly brief look at the topic, so if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis this is not for you. Forensics On Trial is a perfect choice for someone interested in learning the basics of forensic science without investing much time. Barring reruns of the episode, a purchase is your best bet.


Due to conflicting evidence, Judge Dawn Hunt declares a mistrial. Someone else can sort this out.

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