BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

Home  |  About Us  |  Contact Us  |  Help  |  A-Z Topic List
 
 
Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
Home | Law Enforcement | Forensic Investigation
Forensic Investigation
On This Page
About this Topic

Forensic science can be simply defined as the application of science to the law. In criminal cases forensic scientists are often involved in the search for and examination of physical traces, which might be useful for establishing or excluding an association between someone suspected of committing a crime and the scene of the crime or victim.  DNA evidence has become an increasingly powerful tool for solving both violent crimes and property crimes, such as homicide, sexual assault, and burglaries.

Forensic crime laboratories are responsible for examining and reporting on physical evidence collected during criminal investigations for federal, state, and local jurisdictions. The nation’s forensic crime laboratories receive requests for a variety of forensic services, such as DNA analysis, controlled substance identification, and latent fingerprint examination.  DNA evidence collected from a crime scene can implicate or eliminate a suspect, similar to the use of fingerprints. It also can analyze unidentified remains through comparisons with DNA from relatives. Additionally, when evidence from one crime scene is compared with evidence from another using Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), those crime scenes can be linked to the same perpetrator locally, statewide, and nationally.

Medical examiners and coroners’ offices are responsible for the medicolegal investigation of death.  They may conduct death scene investigations, perform autopsies, and determine the cause and manner of death when a person has died as a result of violence, under suspicious circumstances, without a physician in attendance, or for other reasons.  Depending on the circumstances of the death, characteristics of the death scene, the decedent’s medical history, and other factors, death cases may be cleared without the medical examiner or coroner accepting jurisdiction and conducting an additional investigation to determine the cause and manner of death.

Data Collections & Surveys

Publications & Products


Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories, 2009 Presents data on the more than 400 state, municipal, county, and federal crime laboratories operating in the United States during 2009.
  Press Release | PDF (861K) | ASCII file (36K) | Comma-delimited format (CSV) (Zip format 48K)
Part of the Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories Series

Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories, 2005 "Crime labs received an estimated 2.7 million cases in 2005"
  Press Release | More information about this release
Part of the Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories Series

Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories, 2005 Presents findings from the Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories, 2005.
  Press Release | PDF (848K) | ASCII file (31K) | Spreadsheet (Zip format 17K) | To order paper version
Part of the Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories Series

Medical Examiners and Coroner's Offices, 2004 "Almost 2,000 medical examiners' and coroner's offices investigated about one million deaths in 2004 -- Almost 13,500 unidentified human remains on record"
  Press Release | More information about this release

Medical Examiners and Coroners' Offices, 2004 Presents key findings from the 2004 Census of Medical Examiners and Coroners' (ME/C) Offices.
  Press Release | PDF (337K) | ASCII file (34K) | Spreadsheet (Zip format 60K) | To order paper version

DNA Forensics: Expanding Uses and Information Sharing Examines the history and economics of DNA use and reviews privacy concerns regarding the release of an individual's genetic information.
  PDF (2014K)

Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories, 2002 "Federal, state and local crime lab backlog reached 500,000 in 2002"
  Press Release | More information about this release

Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories, 2002 Reports on the organization, functions, budget and expenditures, staffing, workload, and forensic backlog in the Nation's more than 350 publicly funded crime labs.
  Press Release | PDF (606K) | ASCII file (34K) | Spreadsheet (Zip format 60K) | Codebooks and Datasets | To order paper version
Part of the Census of Publicly Funded Forensic Crime Laboratories Series

50 Largest Crime Labs, 2002 Reports on the workload, backlog, and estimated resources needed to meet the demand for forensic services in the Nation's 50 largest publicly funded crime labs.
  PDF (478K) | ASCII file (10K) | Spreadsheet (Zip format 8K) | To order paper version

Survey of DNA Crime Laboratories, 2001 Reports findings from a survey of publicly operated forensic crime labs that perform Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) testing.
  PDF (253K) | ASCII file (31K) | ZIP Format (Spreadsheet 17K) | Codebooks and Datasets | To order paper version
Part of the Survey of DNA Crime Laboratories Series

Terms & Definitions

CODIS COSIS is an acronym for Combined DNA Index System, which is a computer software program that operates local, State, and national databases of DNA profiles from convicted offenders, unsolved crime scene evidence, and missing persons.
 
Crime laboratories A scientific laboratory (with at least one full-time natural scientist) that examines physical evidence in criminal matters, and provides reports and opinion testimony with respect to such physical evidence in courts of law.