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July 22, 2004

Crime Lab Tour

As part of the summer internship, we visited a local crime lab yesterday where I learned the following:

  • Forensic specialists can sometimes determine whether a light bulb (like a headlight) was on or off when a car crashed.
  • They can sometimes also tell how fast it was going when it crashed.
  • They can sometimes recover a serial number after it's been filed off of a gun. When the serial number is punched on the gun, it disturbs the steel molecules below the actual numbers it punches, so even after you've filed off the visible numbers, disturbed (weakened) molecules remain. The forensics people can use muratic acid (I think) to dissolve those weakened molecules, which often gives them a faint trace of the serial number someone tried to obliterate.
  • On the door of the gun lab there was an NRA bumper sticker that read, "Charleton Heston Is My President" next to a big NRA logo. We asked if that was a joke. They didn't think our question was funny.
I also learned a tiny bit about the following databases: NIBIN (guns; compares pictures of cartridge cases), CODIS (dna), AFIS (fingerprints), and IAFIS (the newer fingerprint database via FBI). They played stupid when we asked them if they thought fingerprint evidence was scientific or reliable. It's not. (Sorry, I don't have time to find better links to back up that claim. If you know more about the fingerprint controversy, please share!)

Bottom line: CSI it ain't, but we knew that already, didn't we?

Posted July 22, 2004 07:15 AM | 1L summer

I can honestly say I learned all of those things by watching Law and Order(except for the bumper sticker part)!

Posted by: DG at July 22, 2004 12:48 PM

Yeah, it was a pretty lame tour of what seemed to be a fairly lame lab. They claim to be "nonpartisan" scientists, but they sure didn't want to answer any questions that a defense attorney might want to hold against them in court!

Posted by: ambimb at July 22, 2004 07:49 PM

Heck, that's downright disappointing. =(

Posted by: Shelley at July 23, 2004 11:10 AM

If you like the forensic thing be sure to take a class from Prof. Starrs, he is on the faculty of both the law school and the GW forensic science school

Posted by: matt at July 26, 2004 02:32 PM

Thanks for the tip, Matt. I take it you're at GW or an alum? I'm working with a woman who had Prof. Starrs for a class in forensics last year and she's constantly blowing me away with what she knows about fingerprints, polygraphs, and more. I'll definitely be trying to work that into my schedule.

Any other recommendations?

Posted by: ambimb at July 26, 2004 08:28 PM

If you are interested in the criminal law thing I would suggest some of the faculty that have worked at DOJ like Kerr. If you intend to do trial work Saltzburg. Really depends on what you want to do.

Best of luck!

Posted by: matt at July 28, 2004 01:50 PM

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