Introduction to Forensics

Learn about the scope and nature of forensic science - how modern science can be applied to law, to aid with solving crimes. An introductory course with relevance to professions from crime writing to legal services.

Course Code: BSC114
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Generally speaking, forensic science is the application of any scientific knowledge to the law.  It draws on principles and methods of traditional sciences as well as specific forensic science techniques such as anthropometry, fingerprinting, and blood stain analysis.  Evidence gathered using scientific principles is prepared for submission in courts where it must be presented impartially, and the ultimate test is how well it stands up in court.  

Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Nature of Forensic Science
    • Introduction
    • What is forensic science
    • Laboratory sciences
    • Field sciences
    • Digital Services
    • Forensic medicine
    • Origins and principles
    • Toxicology
    • Anthropology
    • Fingerprinting
    • Bloodstains
    • Ballistics
    • Documents
    • Criminalistics
    • DNA profiling
    • Underlying principles
    • Expert witness
  2. Forensic science and law
    • Scientific principles
    • Validity
    • Feature comparison methods
    • Problems with validity
    • Application of forensic science to law
    • Use of evidence
    • Relationship with law
    • Ways of categorising crimes
    • What is evidence
    • Direct evidence
    • Circumstantial evidence
    • Types of physical and biological evidence
  3. Evidence Collection
    • Chain of custody
    • Crime scene investigations
    • First respondents
    • Initial assessment of the scene
    • Processing the scene
    • Collecting samples - firearms, body fluids, crime scene suspect
    • Trace evidence
    • Tool marks, tyre and footwear impressions
    • Fingerprints, documents, etc.
    • Completion of crime scene investigation
  4. Analysis of Evidence
    • Purpose of analysis
    • Individuality principle
    • Exchange principle
    • Law of progressive change
    • Law of comparison
    • Law of analysis
    • Law of circumstantial facts
    • Law of probability
    • How laws are applied to analysis
    • Statistical analysis
    • Human/ user error
    • Correlation versus causation
    • Univariate analysis
    • Laboratory analysis -blood, hair, fingerprints
    • Dactyloscopy
    • DNA - touch DNA, Low copy number DNA
    • Blood
    • Drugs and toxicology
    • Use of laboratory evidence
  5. Specialist Forensics
    • Civil versus criminal courts
    • Types of forensics used
    • Digital and electronic forensics
    • Gathering evidence
    • Order of volatility
    • Forensic pathology
    • Forensic anthropology
    • Forensic psychology
    • What do forensic psychologists do
  6. Criminology
    • Psychological theories
    • Psychodynamic theory - the id, the ego, the super ego
    • Behavioural theory
    • Social learning theory
    • Cognitive theory
    • Moral development
    • Personality and crime
    • Intelligence and crime
    • Children and crime
    • Violence in children
    • Age of criminal responsibility
  7. Psychological Disorders and Crime
    • Mental health disorder
    • Criminal offences - causality
    • Legal aspects
    • Types of disorder and crime
    • Psychoses
    • Bipolar disorder
    • Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders
    • Personality Disorders
    • Psychopathy
    • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
    • Schizoid Personality Disorder
    • Substance Us
    • Mental health in children and crime
    • Conduct disorder
    • Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  8. Criminal Profiling and Intelligence
    • Criminal profiling
    • Role of Forensic Psychologists & Psychiatrists in Profiling
    • Police Profiling
    • Statistical Profiling
    • Applications of Profiling
    • Profiling Typologies
    • Problems with Profiling
    • Intelligence
    • Intelligence gathering - Surveillance, Fixed Surveillance, Mobile Surveillance, Tracking Offenders, Crime Analysis
  9. Presenting Evidence in Court
    • Burden of proof
    • Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
    • Other Standards of Proof
    • Admissibility of Evidence
    • Evidence
    • Documentary Evidence
    • Real evidence
    • Demonstrative Evidence
    • Witnesses and Testimonial Evidence
    • Expert Witness Testimony
    • Eyewitness Testimonies
    • Character Witness Testimonies
  10. Ethical Issues
    • Legislation vs. Legislature
    • Purpose of the Law
    • Purpose of Ethics
    • Ethical Practice and Forensic Science
    • Ethics as Protective
    • Jury Tainting
    • Chain of Custody
    • Professional Responsibilities for the Psychology and Counsellor
    • Conflicts of Interest
    • Duty of Care
    • Sexual Exploitation
    • Group Counselling
    • Persons with Diminished Capacity
    • Multicultural Issues and Respect
    • Client Records and Confidentiality
    • Dual Relationships
    • Professional Consultation
    • Mental Health and Psychology
    • Labelling and Mental Health
    • Ethical Implications In Forensic Psychology - confidentiality, best interests

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Define forensic science and its various offshoots.
  • Describe the application of forensic science to the investigation of crimes and legal process.
  • Explain crime scene investigations, different categories of evidence, and their collection procedures.
  • Explain how different types of evidence are tested and analysed on site and in the laboratory.
  • Explain the roles of individuals working in specialist forensic sciences and the services they provide.
  • Understand theories underlying criminal behaviour in men, women and children.
  • Explain psychological disorders and how this can relate to criminal behaviour in adults.
  • Explain how assessment and data collection is used in forensic sciences, law enforcement and psychology to profile criminal offenders.
  • Understand how evidence is presented in court and issues surrounding eye witness testimonies.
  • Explain how ethical issues can influence collection of evidence, use of data and profiling.

Principles that Underpin Forensic Analysis

Forensic identification is based two main principles i.e. individuality and exchange. 

The Individuality Principle 

The principle of individuality as attributed to Paul L Kirk (1963) and is regarded as the building block for forensic science. Individuality implies that every entity, whether person or object, can only be identical to itself and so is unique. No two objects whether natural or artificial can be exactly the same. Kirk claimed that the aim of forensic science is to focus on the source of two items (questioned and known, or mark and print), which are thought to have come from a single source.  

As such, identification is concerned with establishing individuality from traces left at a crime scene rather than the sameness of two things. This means identification can be shown indirectly through the analysis of traces and samples e.g. no two fingerprints are the same.

The Exchange Principle

The exchange principle is attributed to Edmond Locard. The principle states that whenever two objects or subjects interact, some sort of trace will be left behind. This is generally at the crime scene. Trace materials include hairs, blood, fibres, and gunshot residues. 

Locard suggested that there are many traces left behind and if interpreted properly they provide the most valuable information.
There are some other more general principles which apply to forensic science:

The Law of Progressive Change

Different objects change, although they may change across different time spans. For example, blood samples will eventually degrade. Some objects are more durable than others and may be relatively permanent, remaining mostly unchanged during identification.  If an object is very durable it may be quite easy use it for identification.  If it is less permanent and its main features change during the identification process it is not possible to answer the question of sameness.

The Law of Comparison

Different samples must only be compared to samples which are alike. In other words blood samples are compared to other blood samples, fibres are compared to other fibres, and so forth. 

The Law of Analysis

The quality of any analysis is determined by the quality of the sample under analysis, the chain of custody, and the expertise of the individual who analyses it.


The Law of Circumstantial Facts

This is concerned with eyewitness testimony, victim statements, and so forth.  Anytime that people are called upon to provide evidence there is a chance that the evidence they supply is not accurate. This can be unintentional e.g. through mistaken observations, making assumptions or deliberate e.g. lying or exaggerating.  On the contrary, evidence which gives a factual account e.g. based on investigation and evidence has a higher chance of being accurate and is more reliable. 


Law of Probability

Conclusions drawn from forensic analysis are dependent on the method used and its advantages and disadvantages. This all has to be taken into consideration.

In conclusion, forensic analysis depends on both the discovery of traces, and connecting them to individuals. If there are no traces found at a crime scene, it is impossible to identify suspects. If traces are found then provided these are analysed properly and the results interpreted in a suitable manner, they may be used as evidence.  



  • A crime writer wishing to produce more authentic fiction
  • Security guards learning to be more observant of the property they guard
  • Anyone working in a legal office seeking to better understand aspects of their work
  • Investigative journalists seeking to expand their understanding of criminal activity
  • Anyone considering a career in law enforcement or criminal law; to develop a fundamental understanding of the nature and scope of this subject prior to deciding on pursuing more in depth studies.
  • Anyone else with a passion, or need to understand more about forensic science.


Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.
Since 1999 ACS has been a recognised member of IARC (International Approval and Registration Centre). A non-profit quality management organisation servicing education.
Member of Study Gold Coast Education Network.
Member of Study Gold Coast Education Network.
ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.
ACS Global Partner - Affiliated with colleges in seven countries around the world.

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