The admissibility of forensic evidence depends on several legal requirements including the maintenance of the chain of custody or continuity of the evidence and the integrity of the evidence in the state as recovered from the crime scene. The forensic scientist’s court report, which seeks to assist the court by presenting his/her analysis, interpretations and expert opinions, must always disclose this information.
On Saturday 26th November 2016, the Forensic Science Network (FSN), under its 2016/17 seminar series initiative, organized a seminar on the topic “Evidence packaging and labeling and presentation of evidence in court” for the MSc/MPhil Forensic Science students at KNUST, Ghana. The seminar was organized in collaboration with the KNUST Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology.
The lead scientist of the initiative, Mr. Emmanuel Nsiah Amoako, an MSc Forensic Science alumnus of the University of Strathclyde-UK, gave a 30-minutes presentation on the topic. In his presentation, he emphasized that though several packaging materials may fit for the purpose of packaging an item of evidence, the key is to choose the material which best preserves the item of evidence and maintains its integrity as was found at the crime scene. He outlined the importance of packaging and labeling including protection of the evidence and ensuring unambiguous evidence identification. He noted that the packaging material must be able to protect the item of evidence from damage during its transportation to the laboratory and also prevent contamination of the evidence. He stressed that “while the integrity of the evidence is paramount, the safety of the scientist must also be taken into account when choosing the packaging material.” After his presentation, the students were tasked to package and label items of evidence likely to be found at an alleged burglary crime scene.
The second part of the seminar begun with a presentation on how to write an effective forensic court report. The students were advised on the use of simple and clear language to communicate their scientific findings to the ‘non-science’ audience while reporting information of relevance needed to reach an independent verdict by the court.
This was again followed by another practical activity where the students were asked to use their observational and reasoning skills to find a linkage between two items of evidence. The students were asked to write their findings and the meaning of those findings (opinion) in a form deemed to be admissible in court. The students were asked to critique each group on the use of jargons, clarity, and brevity of their individual reports.
Overall, the students appreciated the relevance of packaging and labeling, most importantly, how to open, sign and re-seal an already packaged item, and maintain its chain of custody. They also appreciated the efforts involved in writing an effective forensic court report.