History Of Forensic Science In Criminal Investigation


Forensics in its basic definition includes the word “Forum” which means a group of people whose key responsibility is to assist the legal system and to bring the criminals behind the bar. When it comes to punish the criminal, it must be first of all need to prove the conviction on them and for this purpose it will required to investigate the whole scenario and furthermore to analysis the evidences left by the criminals at the scene of crime. These evidences will help to prove those criminals responsible for their misdemeanors and in this way they can be punished by the law. So to investigate the evidence recovered in the crime scene there will be the need of different technologies from more than a single field of basic science and this is why the field of forensic science is known to have the incorporation of different field of basic sciences (such as biology, chemistry, physics etc.) and as well as applied sciences (such as biotechnology, life sciences, medicine etc.) in itself. In this way the field of forensic science is branched in different divisions such as Forensic biology, Forensic physics, Forensic chemistry, Forensic Biotechnology, Forensic serology, Forensic Toxicology, Forensic anthropology forensic medicine and many more. So to know furthermore about the field of forensic science one should know about the history of forensic science. Here in this article we will discuss about different forensic pioneers whose contribution in the history of forensic science is unforgettable

Keywords: Forum, Forensic, Serology, Anthropology Pioneers.


Forensic science in its broadest and simplest term is basically the application of basic science (physics, chemistry, biology, math’s, etc.) as well as applied science (technology, medicine and engineering etc.) in the field of law to bring the criminal behind the bar or to bring the criminal investigation system into motion or to help the law. for which forensic science also applies the principle techniques and knowledge of basic science and few applied sciences as well.

According to oxford dictionary, forensic science is described as  a ‘mixed science’ (Oxford English Dictionary, 2005) which list one of the first use of phrase forensic science.

The discipline  of forensic science can be neatly divided into two specific fields , same  as the word that describe it. The first word “forensic” which is derived from the Latin word ‘forum’, means for ‘public’ or ‘group of people’ related to law,  and the second word ‘science’ which means the ‘collection of systematic techniques as well as methodologies used to understand the physical world’. So, together the term  forensic science directs to the profession of people (scientist) whose sole purpose is to answer the question  for the court through testimony or report.

So basically, forensic science is the idea of application of science to the criminal and civil laws that are regulated by the police agencies in the criminal justice system.

We most often used to listen another term “Criminalistics” which is mostly got synonymously used by many of people as the forensic scientist. The term is derived from German “Kriminalistik” which was developed to capture the different field of scientific as well as technical method to the criminal justice system and resolution of legal disputes. So, criminalistic is actually the well defined branch of forensic science which includes the collection as well as analysis of physical and trace evidence generated by criminal activity. To avoid any doubt and uncertainty by superfluous terminologies, forensic science and forensic scientist is being frequently used instead of criminology and criminalistics.

According to the American association of forensic science which is the largest forensic science organization in the world has broadly illustrated the profession practicing by 11 section which are

  1. Criminalistics
  2. Digital and Multimedia Sciences
  3. Engineering Science
  4. General
  5. Jurisprudence
  6. Odontology
  7. Pathology/Biology
  8. Physical Anthropology
  9. Psychiatry/Behavioral Science
  10. Questioned Documents
  11. Toxicology

Although this list is not so exclusive as it does not include skill such as fingerprint examination, photography, tool mark and firearm examination.

History of forensic science:

While discussing about the history of forensic science it is unavoidable to mention sir Aurther Candoyle  who has a great influence on popularizing the scientific method of crime detection and investigation techniques through his novel character known as Sherlock Holmes. It was Sherlock Holmes who for the first time used newly developed principle of fingerprinting, serology, firearm identification, question document examination etc. which was later accepted for real life criminal investigation

In this article, we will mostly discuss about some great pioneer of history of forensic science who had contributed their all life and experience in development of  the field of forensic science.

(A) Mathieu Orfila (1787-1853): father of forensic toxicology

Mathieu Orfilla was the native of Spain. He established methods of scientific and chemical analysis of poison. He was the one who analyzed the well known case of  Mr Lefarge who got died under suspicious condition and for which his wife was suspected for the murder. Orfila analyzed  Mr Lefarge’s remains and found that  traces of arsenic found in his stomach content and as well as on his food. He further concluded that it was arsenic which is only responsible for poisoning and death. This case was proved a great milestone in his carrier and he was conferred as father of forensic toxicology. He published his first paper on detection of poison and their effect on animals in 1814.

(B) Alphonse Betillon (1853-1914): father of criminal identification

It was the era when a considerable advancement in science of criminal identification were shown. It was the time when photographic method was not even so developed, fingerprint were not been used, then there was no any method were used which we can say reliable to track the criminal. In 1879, a French criminologist came into light who begun to used the series of precise  body measurement in such a manner that it could be used as personal identification. This method was known as anthropometry or bertillonage on the name of its creator. This method was used accurately for about two decades. His early effort have earned a distinguished position for being known as father of criminal identification. It was the William west case who divert the people’s attention and believe from bertillonage where a prisoner name William west was admitted on his prison to serve a sentence. When his record was taken using Bertillon system, it was found that a person with virtually same set of data was already present there. This was proved a death knell for Bertillon system and has opened a door for fingerprinting.

(C) Fransis Galton (1822-1911):

He was native of united kingdom, developed a method of classification and study of fingerprint. He carried out first systematic study of fingerprint in 1894. Ha also published a book entitled “Fingerprint” which was first of its own kind and a article proof supporting the uniqueness of personal identification through fingerprint. In his book, he classified fingerprint into 3 main categories i.e. arch, loop and whorl, the book contain 3 cardinal principle i.e. fingerprint are unique, permanent and can be classified. Along with this book also contain the basic practical method for recording fingerprint.

(Dr. Juan Vucetich an Argentinean scientist who proposed a system for  fingerprint classification in 1894, which was still used in some Spanish speaking country. A British officer, William Herschel and Scottish physician Henry fauld both also have studied fingerprint to see whether these could be used for identification.  and contributed a lot in the field. Another and a great pioneer of this field, Sir Edward Henry in year 1901 advised a classification system for recording fingerprint was a great of its kind and still being used throughout the modern world for identification purpose).

(D) Hans Gross (1847-1915):

He was first to describe the application of criminal investigation . he published his book on criminal investigation in 1893 in which he detailed the assistance that investigation procedure perceive from the field of basic and applied sciences. He introduced forensic journal of criminology for reporting improved method for scientific crime detection.

(E) A.S. Osborn (1858-1946):

A pioneer in the field of questioned document who developed the fundamental principle of document examination, which were responsible for the acceptance of document as scientific evidence by the court. The first book on document examination entitled “ Question document” was published by him in 1910. This book is still considered as a primary reference for document examination.

(F) Admond Locard (1877-1966):

He was a French man who describe that how the principle of Hans Gross can be used to develop a workable forensic science laboratory. Today, he is known for his principle of exchange which demonstrate that whenever the a criminal or any person comes in contact with any object or person, a cross transfer of evidences takes place which form a basis for forensic examination of physical and trace evidences.

(G) Leon Lattes (1887-1954):

He was the native of Spain, discovered the method of blood grouping from dry blood stain in 1915.

(H) Calvin Goddard (1891-1955)

A USA army colonel who described the method for identification of bullet from the weapon which is responsible to fire. For this he used comparison microscope and it was all his effort which makes the comparison microscope as a indespensible tool of firearm examination. He was considered as father of forensic ballistics and firearm examination.


Forensic science is a widespread field with a rich, if untapped, history. Most often the field of forensic science has suffered a lot from the lack of adequate historical knowledge and our unawareness on it—not knowing the precedent dooms one to reiterate it, and so onward. Forensic science also occupies what may be a exclusive niche between courts and  law enforcement. The pressures from either side color much of what is accepted as forensic science, and yet practitioners must adhere to the tenets of science. Because forensic science is seen as a growth industry, one would be hard pressed to find another discipline with so much rich material to mine or such promise in the dazzling future of technology.

Footnote: Max M Houck & Jay A Siegel, Fundamentals of Forensic Science 04-21 (3 ed. 2015).

Catherine Soanes & Angus Stevenson, The Oxford dictionary of English (2005).

About Authors –

1. Ruchuka Dwivedi – Student (Forensic Science) at SHUATS, Prayagraj

2. Neelakshi Dwivedi – Student (Law), University of Allahabad, Prayagraj