Forensic anthropology establishes the causes of death of an individual by conducting medical investigations on the human remains. A team of forensic anthropologists works together to draw conclusions on the cause of the death. They collect evidence, apply primary knowledge to assess the human skeleton, and create a biological profile of the victim. The findings are documented and utilized in testifying in a court trial, ensuring that justice is served. This dissertation will therefore focus on forensic anthropology and its roles and impacts in the legal and medical field. Examples of cases affected by forensic anthropology will also be discussed to affirm that the expertise and knowledge applied under this field can affect court trials and delivery of justice.
Anthropology refers to the study of human beings, including their cultural heritages, linguistics, physical, and social traits. Thus, forensic anthropology refers to the sub-discipline of physical anthropology involving various techniques and methods in oesteology and skeletal biology. It examines and analyzes diverse, preserved human remains to determine the cause of death. The results are therefore applied in determining the causes of death by analyzing the disease or trauma. Consequently, the victim’s gender, age, ancestry, stature, and historical living conditions are also determined. Forensic anthropologists are therefore qualified investigators applying medical and legal techniques to identify causes of a death on human remains. They also ensure that pathologists’ mistakes during criminal case reports on unexpected deaths do not result to legal and justice miscarriage.s Victims’ families and friends also regard forensic anthropologists as specialists tasked in providing credible and reliable conclusive reports to ensure that the justice system rules fairly. They conduct autopsies on suspicious and unascertained death cases as individual service contractors. They however cooperate with medical examiners and the police force to ensure that the crime scene is carefully handled to collect evidence. Forensic anthropologists should therefore possess sound understanding of legal requirements and processes applying to particular jurisdictions (Soren, 2014).
According to Vanessa Stanojevich, the role of a forensic anthropologist is vital during death investigations. This is because forensic anthropologists are able to examine and understand various forms of skeletal properties. Consequently, they apply this information in attempts to acquire reasonable, relevant, and reliable conclusions. Thus, forensic anthropologists are mainly tasked in processing crime scenes. They ought to collect, examine and process remaining materials at the scene in order to develop a biological profile. Consequently, the profile is utilized in compiling appropriate, accurate, and reliable documents that can be presented in a provincial or federal court to testify a case. Forensic anthropologists therefore possess insightful knowledge of the human body. As a result, they are able to successfully determine causes of death. Law enforcement agencies should, however, be involved in determining the outcomes of death in a criminal case investigation. This is because the agencies also play a crucial part in ensuring that the outcomes of the case under investigation are based on answers and conclusions provided by skilled, experienced, and reliable experts (Stanojevich, 2012).
The first role played by forensic anthropologists therefore involves scene processing. Foremost, they locate where the body is either buried or disposed off. During investigations, law enforcement agencies provide expert advice. This ensures forensic anthropologists undertake the following measures before undertaking scene processing. Foremost, a forensic anthropologist ought to ensure they conduct onsite identification. This involves collecting and gathering scattered body parts to determine if they are human or not. After the forensic anthropologist determines they are human, he/she should proceed with the search strategy allied to the anatomical scatter patterns indentified during emergency responses by the law enforcement agencies (Passalacqua & Todd, 2012).
The forensic anthropologist team should therefore ensure all human body parts are retrieved from the scene. This can take several days. As a result, forensic anthropologists treat scenes as delicate nature prone to contamination and destruction. Destroying the perpetrator’s forms of evidence proving their presence is therefore detrimental while investigating a death. If human body parts are therefore missing from a crime scene, the forensic anthropologist’s role to identify the victim and the cause of death can be greatly impeded. Thus, the second step after identifying the scene’s location involves setting up a screening area. The area is utilized in sifting through screens revealing human body part remains, associated insects, fibres, and artifacts systematically. The last step in undertaking this role involves setting up a staging space to conduct excavation. Plants, metals, earth materials and sediment are excavated. Consequently, they preserved for further processing (Passalacqua & Todd, 2012).
The second role of a forensic anthropologist involves examining the excavated materials to affirm they are human remains. A soft tissue and taphonomic assessment is also conducted in order for inspect and process the remains effectively and efficiently. A scientist should therefore have the ability to differentiate bone and non-bone materials based on presented evidence. If the bone fragments are ascertained are human, a taphonomic assessment should be performed to interpret various activities that took place before the victim died and got discovered. Estimating post-mortem intervals, reconstruction of post-mortem events, and environmental reconstructions as well as distinguishing evidence can detect foul play or a crime. Decomposition rates and patterns as well as dispersion and disarticulation of soft tissues and body parts are also examined. This establishes proper assessment of the excavated remains affirming whether they are important during the investigation (Stanojevich, 2012).
This prompts forensic anthropologists to develop a biological profile of the unidentified deceased person. Physical traits are mainly applied in establishing the victim’s gender, age, and stature. Acquiring skeletal and dental knowledge also helps to determine a conclusive age and gender based on bone structures and elements. They provide hormonal and nutritional status of the victim as well as individual variation crucial in determining the age and gender. Thus, forensic anthropologists apply odontological individual identification with regards to dental records and radiographs to establish age ranges (Eugénia & Cristina, 2010).
The most crucial role involves identifying causes of death. Forensic anthropologists and medical examiners are tasked in understanding and establishing how the victim passed on. Forensic anthropologists often classify trauma based on use of sharp and blunt objects as well as guns. These produce impact marks resulting to fractures and bone fragments. Forensic anthropologists can therefore utilize the impact marks to determine the shape of the object, type of trauma inflicted, and class of weapon. With regards to guns, they ought to determine the entry and exit point of the bullet based on the size and pattern of the wounds. Based on these investigations, they can provide medical examiners and coroners with crucial information explaining the damages, wounds, and fractures as well as the cause of death (Stanojevich, 2012).
Forensic anthropologists can also be tasked in documenting testimonies as provided by eye witnesses. They ought to apply anthropological determinations and measures as well as taphonomic assessments, biological profiles, and victim’s traits to provide précised documentation records. Courts of law rely on such documentation to determine the consequences and outcomes of a criminal court case investigation. They should therefore be scientifically neutral to avoid biased court case outcomes. Thus, forensic anthropologists are legally responsible to the victim, accused, and the community to ensure the crime is solved and justice served (Eugénia & Cristina, 2010).
Very few forensic anthropologists are able to work independently due to the overwhelming work they are required to undertake. Persons teaching forensic anthropology are therefore allowed to work on part time basis to provide their expertise ideas, opinions, and knowledge. For centuries, forensic anthropologists have therefore provided methods and techniques applied to evaluate bones to determine causes of death. The victims are mostly discovered after a long period of time having decomposed and disfigured soft tissues applied in determining their stature. The established techniques are utilized to ensure questions allied to cause of death are answered satisfactorily. As a result, forensic anthropologists ought to work with homicide investigators, odontologists, and other medical examiners in order to discover evidences of trauma while determining post-mortem intervals (Schmitt, Cunha & Pinheiro, 2006).
Forensic anthropologists therefore impact medical examinations and investigations diversely. Foremost, they are called on archeological sites after human remains are excavated. They are often excavated by law enforcers or members of the public fully decomposed, skeletonized and/or burned beyond recognition. Humanitarian and legal procedures however affirm the human remains ought to be identified. Thus, forensic anthropologists apply metric and non-metric assessments to characterize the remains. The characteristics are allied to ancestry, gender, age, race, health, and other unique traits. More importantly, forensic anthropologists ought to ensure the remains are either human or non-human. Forensic anthropologists’ primary impact is therefore experienced across the law enforcement body by providing a biological profile of the deceased victim. This helps in narrowing down possible and applicable identities of the deceased victim (Eugénia & Cristina, 2010).
Forensic anthropologists also determine and classify the kind of trauma impacted to cause death. They collect sharp and blunt objects likely to cause the wounds and injuries identified on the human remains. Ante-mortem results provide possible ballistic injuries that were impacted just before the victim passed on. Consequently, peri-mortem and post-mortem results provide results on the injuries and impacts on the victim near and after their death respectively. Examining human remains for injuries, fractures, and wounds likely to have attributed to the death of the victim assists medical examiners to determine cause and manner of the death. Causes and manner of death include natural, homicide, accidental, and suicide. Thus, forensic anthropologists ought to ensure burnt, cremated or decomposed human remains provide accurate and reliable information allied to the victim. Consequently, they can apply physical anthropology and standardized scientific techniques to undertake complex and sophisticated crime scene investigations. Thus, forensic anthropologists impact on legal, medical, and social aspects in investigating a suspicious death affecting an unidentified human victim (Schmitt, Cunha & Pinheiro, 2006).
Forensic anthropologists ought to acquire advanced degrees to ensure they are qualified in undertaking crime scene investigations. They are trained and skilled to study the human anatomy across various populations. Forensic anthropologists with police science and medicine qualifications including toxicology and serology can obtain crucial information from human remains. The remains are mainly due to fires, explosions, air crashes, and intentional dismemberment and mutilation of the victim’s body parts. Thus, forensic anthropologists impact the social societies as they are integral members of the legal and medical community assessing mass disasters leading to loss of innocent lives (NANRC, 2009).
Forensic anthropologists also conduct symposiums across various communities to discuss current and future needs in the field. The symposiums are crucial as problems in forensic anthropology are identified. Consequently, attendees provide applicable solutions implemented to improve the forensic anthropology field. Pathologists, investigators, law officers and enforcers, as well as members of the legal community and coroners ensure the symposium discussions provide positive impacts in the physical and medical forensic anthropology field. For example, they identify measures to improve communications based on ethical and legal issues affecting death investigations. They also ensure newly hired forensic anthropologists are educated, trained, and certified. This ensures they can provide accurate and reliable results from a death investigation the legal and medical enforcers can utilize to seek justice for the victim (Pearsall, 2011).
United States has handled various death investigations allied to forensic anthropology. In 1974, Caroline Richardson was convicted for murder related to bombing of a public housing. The forensic anthropologists however affirmed that, collection of evidence during the case led to egregious errors. More so, a medical examination was conducted on the suspect while in custody. The results were rendered inconclusive as the suspect might have been taking other drugs under custodial protection interfering with the medical records. It was therefore ascertained that, Caroline Richardson suffered justice miscarriage as the medical and legal examiners handling the case were neither keen nor thorough (Kathryn & Clive, 2005).
In England, the Turner court case applied forensic anthropology to determine the outcomes of the legal process. Turner had been accused of murdering his long-term girlfriend. The defense team claimed Turner killed her after she admitted being unfaithful. Forensic anthropologists were required to provide expert testimonies within the jurors’ competencies. They provided documented reports without confusing or usurping functions of the jury in deciding the outcome of the case. Foremost, they had to conduct a mental examination to affirm Turner was psychologically fit. The examination was conducted by an expert psychiatrist who provided scientific information to the judge and members of the jury affirming Turner was mentally stable. Expert witnesses with impressive scientific qualifications were also required to provide opinions regarding Turner’s state of mind. They had to observe his behavior and human nature based on limited normality. The jurors however relied on Turner’s account of events (Kathryn & Clive, 2005).
More so, they were able to observe Turner’s reactions on strenuous and stressful occasions to determine his mental capacity. Thus, the Turner court case did not rely on investigations conducted by forensic anthropologists to make a case ruling. The investigations were however provided a useful line in deciding R v. Turner’s case. They ensured he had to undergo mental examination and observation to determine his psychological state before being convicted of murder. This prevented the court from releasing Turner on mental instability claims. It also ensured Turner was convicted of murder based on facts that he was fully aware and conscious of his actions (Brickley & Ferllini, 2007).
The most common case however occurred in 1910 when Hawley Harvey Crippen was found guilty of murdering his wife Cora and hanged. Initial investigations indicated Hawley had poisoned Cora and dismembered her body before burying her remains in a cellar at their London home. Forensic anthropologists from Michigan State University have, however, shed new light on the case. They claim that modern forensic science indicates that the remains retrieved from the cellar did not belong to Cora. A forensic biologist, toxicologist, and genealogist conducted DNA analysis on the remains and the sample used during the trial and compared the results. During the trial, medical records indicated that Cora had suffered abdominal scarring. However, the forensic investigations conducted afresh after a century concluded that the remains at the cellar did not belong to Cora. This case has, therefore, spawned interests and intrigue to determine if justice was served or miscarried. Thus, forensic anthropologists are vital in ensuring that global legal communities deliver justice for innocent deaths affecting communities and cultures (Kathryn & Clive, 2005)
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Eugénia, C., & Cristina, C. (2010). Forensic Anthropology and Forensic Pathology: The State of the Art, Forensic Anthropology and Medicine Journal.
Kathryn, C., & Clive, W. (2005). Medical Mistakes and Miscarriages of Justice: Perspectives on the Experiences in England and Wales, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa
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