Forensic science has indeed transformed what happens in courtrooms around the world.
Two weeks ago, the Police Deputy Director Human Resource Department, Felix Ndyomugenyi said, “out of the 4500 murder cases in four years, the police was able to solve only 100 cases”. Solving crimes and execution of justice as we know it through criminal law requires that the cases are solved with substantial evidence proving to the judge beyond reasonable doubt. The police solving a paltry 2.2 percent of murder cases is not only alarming but calls for a critical review which has led to writing of this article offering possible or alternative solutions.
Science has revolutionized the way we understand crime, these days perpetrators in some incidences are highly trained that it needs a well-trained police to stay ahead of the crime being solved. One such field is known as Forensic Science. Forensic comes from the Latin word forensis which means in an open court or public relating to law. Various fields of forensic science have evolved such as: material forensics (forensic engineering), computer forensics, art forensics, forensic accounting, forensic botany, forensic chemistry, forensic pathology, forensic toxicology etc. All these fields aim at collecting evidence, analysis and eventually construct or reconstruct the scene of crime.
My exposure to forensic science was in 2002 at the then Government Chemist and Analytical Laboratory (GCAL) where I was employed as a laboratory assistant. By then most of the work was on forensic toxicology, analysis of pesticide residues and eventually food and beverages analysis; however, I was majorly stationed in the forensic toxicology section. By then working under a technician most of the work in the toxicology lab was on the analysis of samples for the presence of drugs or poison that may have led to death. The samples ranged from those collected from the crime scene to body organs such as the stomach. My stay at GCAL was short-lived because I later left for overseas for studies.
Forensic science has indeed transformed what happens in courtrooms around the world. One prominent case that utilized the progress in forensic science was in 2008; a Member of Parliament Hussein Akbar Godi’s wife was fatally shot at Lukojja village in Nama sub-county, Mukono. Mr. Godi was arrested as a suspect to help with the investigations. When detectives and scene of crime officers handle crime scene evidence in a professional manner, forensic science in most cases offers the needed evidence by prosecutors to present in courts of law to convict a murder suspect. In Mr. Godi’s case, it was reported by GCAL that the bullet cartridges left at the crime scene matched his pistol as well as the soil sample on his shoe matched the soil at the crime scene. This was overwhelming evidence provided by forensic science and this can go a long way in solving crime cases if and only if the former GCAL, now Directorate of Government Analytical laboratory (DGAL) is well equipped as well as regional laboratories of the same are established.
Several engineering structures have been collapsing in Kampala, and many of these structures have claimed lives. Material forensics concerns analysis of all types of materials in relation to their properties, failure or cause of damage. Humans put on clothing made of up of fibers; in most cases these fibers are left at the crime scene; these fibers absorb sweat which can be used for DNA analysis or can be used to trace the suspect. Murder of occupants of a building that has collapsed can be traced to whether the owner or the engineer was in the know of the types of materials used, whether they would withstand the designed load or whether the code of practice ignored.
During the registration of citizens for the national IDs, fingerprints were collected. I believe that the fingerprints are the starting point of solving crime. I am sure that the fingerprint data bank must be functionalized since we already have the input data; I would also recommend taking DNA samples from all convicts for DNA profiling. Some murder cases involve scuffles with the criminals; this evidence can be obtained from the body or under fingernails and eventually processed for DNA analysis.
As the years go by, the field of forensic science is rapidly expanding with utilization of entomology (insects) to predict the time a person was murdered or using pollen grains (plynalogy) by botanists to ascertain the geographical area of where the crime actually took place. A person can be murdered from location A and dumped several miles away from the scene of crime at location B. In some incidences, pollen grains on the evidence can be collected analyzed in the laboratory and try to trace the exact location of the crime scene.
The crime scene is always rich with evidence and it’s the duty of specialized scene of crime officers to collect that evidence and use it for conviction. In order for Uganda to achieve this, there is need of specialized training in the area of Forensic Science, Criminalistics and Forensic Material Science. It is unfortunate that currently there is no Forensic Science undergraduate or postgraduate programme in Uganda’s education system.
The 21st century is one which has turned the legal fraternity of solving crime cases into an evidence-based legal system that heavily relies on science. We cannot afford to be left behind; the country must position itself to stay ahead of criminals through utilization of forensic science. Universities should write curricula in the area of Forensic Science and Forensic Material Science so as to create a skills pool ready to join the Police but the National Council for Higher Education must ensure that the universities have the necessary laboratory equipment for training Forensic scientists such that the training isn’t theoretical like most university programmes in the country. Equipment such as High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEM), Thermogravimetric Analysis (TGA), Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR), Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC), Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometry (AAS) and X-ray Diffraction (XRD) are needed by public universities and DGAL so as to train forensic scientists and solve crime cases respectively.
Dr Samson Rwahwire is a member of the Critical Thought Group; former Laboratory Assistant at DGAL; he holds a Certificate in Forensic Science from Nangyang Technological University, Singapore; Master in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering; PhD in Materials Engineering and currently a Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Engineering - Busitema University