If the temperature is taken miles away, or if the insect that was found and studied was not exactly the same as one that had been studied before, only similar perhaps, the defense attorney will also often argue that the entomologist's testimony is only guesswork, and therefore that it is not valid and should not be admitted as evidence (Sachs, 1998). Judges have taken different approaches about whether to allow this kind of evidence, but the trend appears to be toward allowing the prosecution to admit this kind of evidence, which indicates that forensic entomology in general is becoming more accepted by law enforcement and by the court system across the country.
The way that forensic entomology is becoming worthwhile in the court system is a trial by fire, but many entomologists say that they welcome this because they know that this ensures that, when their evidence is finally accepted as being just as valid as DNA and other testing, it will truly be because it has been tested thoroughly and found to be valid (Sachs, 1998). These forensic entomologists also realize that their data will be valid and valued if, and only if, the insects that they find are seen to be valued by the courts (Sachs, 1998). One of the problems that they run into, however, is what to do about corpses that are found in closed-in places. This is problematic because flies and other insects cannot find these bodies as easily, and sometimes not at all (Sachs, 1998).
Because of this, the time of death as established by blowfly larvae can be difficult to determine, and therefore it will not hold up in court to the extent that it would have otherwise. When this occurs, forensic entomologists try to look at how long it would have been before the insects would have been able to detect the body and make their way to it, and they add that time frame onto the time frame that they can find from the insect activity that they discover on the body itself (Sachs, 1998).
When they do this, however, they open themselves up for all kinds of legal challenges because they are, in effect, guessing. They really do not know for sure what the time of death was, and therefore they have trouble convincing the court that they are certain about when the person died. Without this certainty, it is obviously much more difficult to make a case.
Regardless of the concerns that some have about this it appears to be relatively clear that the field of forensic entomology will continue to expand and that more people will begin to see the benefits that it can have when it comes to homicide investigations and placing the time of death of a victim. Since movies such as "The Silence of the Lambs," the field has seen more interest and this looks as though it will continue. Not everyone embraces this particular field of study, but many seem to think that it has merit. In 1998, there was only one person in the world who was a full-time certified forensic entomologist (Sachs, 1998). By the year 2003, there were nine people throughout the world who were certified and performing that duty full-time (Harlow, 2003).
The movement from one person to nine people in six years is not a large jump, but it does indicate that there is interest in the field. When this field becomes more accepted within law enforcement and within the courts, it appears likely that even more people will choose this particular career path and when they do the field will begin to grow much more quickly, creating a rise in the ability to solve homicide cases that are still going unsolved by law enforcement at this point in time.
Although some see this field as being rather gruesome, it is also very fascinating and can be extremely helpful in bringing murderers to justice, which indicates that it has a lot of value for those in law enforcement and the court system. Whether this value is easily recognized remains to be seen, as the field of forensic entomology still faces some challenges before the courts will accept it on a large scale. It has been shown, however, to be more accurate than an estimation judging off of blood pooling, rigor mortis, and other factors that are commonly used to determine the time of death. If this particular trend continues, it is only a matter of time before the field of forensic entomology begins to grow rapidly and many more cases are solved using the insects that were previously seen to be just a nuisance to investigators.
DNA, short for deoxyribonucleic acid, is often called the "blueprint of life." That's because almost every living organism on this planet, whether bacterium, plant, fungus or animal, contains some form of the molecule (Epplen & Lubjuhn, 1999). The code contained within the DNA determines whether the organism turns out to be a fish or a dandelion, a person or a chimp; it also creates the characteristics that make one individual similar to, but still different from, another.
DNA is an extremely stable molecule, which means the information it contains can last long after the organism itself has died. In fact, it's so stable that scientists recently extracted DNA samples from insects trapped and preserved in amber droplets millions of years ago, obtaining information about how life functioned long before humans evolved.
DNA, though, is just a blueprint; by itself it does not create or maintain an organism. Rather, through a complex series of events it is "translated" into amino acids and then into proteins that the body's cells can use to obtain and store energy, transport materials, communicate and reproduce, among other things (Epplen & Lubjuhn, 1999).
Wrongful convictions are not often talked about in the news, but they are occasionally mentioned when they are incredibly significant, such as a man who was wrongfully convicted 20 years ago and then was freed based on DNA evidence or some other new way of determining whether the person was actually guilty (the DNA, 2007).
These are the exceptions rather than the rules, but these do happen, and they can significantly affect the lives of many people. Not only is the life of the wrongly accused changed forever, but his or her family and friends are all affected as well. This is a very serious concern, and naturally the criminal justice system tries to avoid wrongful convictions as much as they can. It is not always possible, however, to avoid wrongfully convicting someone if there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence or if there are witnesses who claim the person is guilty of a particular crime (Coleman & Swenson, 1994).
Now that there are more reliable procedures, such as DNA testing, there are fewer people who are wrongfully convicted. Before this kind of testing was available, wrongful conviction was much more severe, and it was relatively common for people to be wrongfully convicted of crimes, because they lacked the sophisticated ways to prove their innocence that are available now. Appeals were not as popular and the amount of court cases to rely on were also more limited, which gave these people less to work with where precedent was concerned (Coleman & Swenson, 1994). Lawyers were not as skilled as they are today, and there was less they could do to defend their clients from wrongful accusations.
However, today was brought a new age of criminology, and many of the people who were previously convicted of crimes are being found innocent and released based on new evidence. Still, though, there are those that maintain their innocence and have no way to prove it. They may also be wrongly convicted, but if their crimes were not ones that produced DNA evidence there is often little that they can do to show that they were not guilty. This has much to do with the idea that how many people are wrongfully convicted in this country cannot accurately be determined (Sheindlin, 1996). Opinions and some educated guesswork are all that is available to those that want answers to this question.
There are protections in place to avoid wrongful convictions, but they do not always do their job. One of the main protections is all of the new ways that are used to determine whether someone is guilty, such as the aforementioned DNA testing. This and other new scientific breakthroughs provide good protection because they are very exacting and leave virtually no room for error. Another protection is having a jury. This means that others must hear the case and say what they think is right, instead of leaving it up to the judge.
This gives more of a chance for others to listen to all of the evidence and agree as to whether someone has committed a crime. It…