The Things We Get Wrong About Crime and Forensics

Crime-fighting shows and movies have warped our perceptions of what forensic science is really like. So unsurprisingly, this has led to a lot of false assumptions on our part – like there’s a magical machine that matches fingerprints 100% of the time, that blood spatter helps determine the weapon used in a crime and that you can convict someone using nothing but a strand of their hair. Sorry to burst your bubble, but real-life doesn’t work that way. This doesn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to the things we get wrong about crime and forensics. Keep reading to learn more.

1. Fingerprints

Using fingerprint analysis to convict someone is by far one of the least reliable investigation methods. For one, there’s no machine that automatically has the fingerprint of every person or even every criminal in the world. So when a show finds someone as quick as can be, it’s not very realistic. Also, some fingerprints have to be compared manually. Which takes us to the next point—human bias and subjectivity. Forensic analysts are prone to interpreting the fingerprint samples incorrectly, especially if they only have a partial print to go by. These two factors alone make it very clear why this method can’t be depended on.

2. Bloodstain Pattern Analysis

Contrary to what is portrayed in the media, using the blood spatter to determine what went down before the victim’s death is generally considered to be junk science by those in the forensics community. Although experts are sometimes able to guess what happened, the bloodstain pattern analysis is far from a reliable method and can often be prone to bias. Also, in many instances, there is often way less blood than you’d imagine, and the spatters are too random to pinpoint exactly what happened.

3. Hair Analysis

Another flawed and unreliable investigation method is the hair analysis where a forensic analyst will compare a suspect’s hair under a microscope in an attempt to match it against one that was found at a crime scene. This one goes completely against basic scientific principles with a long history of a massively high error rate and subjectivity. For instance, between 1989 and 2016, a total of 74 people were wrongly imprisoned for several years due to an inaccurate hair analysis. Also, it’s difficult to match hair strands because they don’t have a specific characteristic, unlike fingerprints.

4. Suppressors

It is believed that suppressors or silencers completely eliminate the loud bang emitted from a gun when it’s fired. No, they don’t get rid of the sound, but instead grants a noise reduction of 20 to 40 decibels. This makes the shot significantly quieter, but still far from silent. Depending on the type of gun, a suppressor can reduce the noise from 140 to 160 decibels to as low as 125 decibels. Because any noise above 140 decibels is damaging to our hearing, suppressors can be a great substitute at shooting ranges if you aren’t wearing ear protection.

5. Serial or Would You Like Some Cereal?

Movies often portray serial slayers as geniuses who are always one step ahead of the authorities. Though there were in fact some who were indeed quite intelligent, the truth is that majority of them were not that smart, with an average IQ range of 90 to 110. Their crime style often reflected their intelligence levels too: those who used incendiaries ranked higher while those who resorted to close-contact crimes were somewhere in the middle- the more foolish ones were those who preferred poisonings.

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