Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies

371 Varner Hall
Varner Hall Room 217
Rochester, MI 48309-4485
(location map)
(248) 370-2154

Dr. Joe Shively
Interim Director, BALS Program
Associate Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

Forensics and Crime Scene Analysis

Crime Scene Analysis

Forensics, or crime scene analysis, involves science applied to legal issues by assisting juries, attorneys and judges in understanding the physical evidence of a criminal case and is critical to identify and convict a criminal. Forensic scientists perform physical and chemical analyses on criminal evidence and report their findings to a court of law, where physical evidence can be found at the scene of the crime, on a victim or both. Forensic scientists employ mathematical principles, problem-solving methods, complex instruments, and microscopic examining techniques to analyze the evidence. Forensic scientists make connections based on the physical evidence to determine certain information and explain the results in court while describing the methods used to arrive at said conclusion. Some forensic scientists work in laboratories and some work at the crime scene.

Forensics includes issues ranging from validating the signature on a will, to assessing product liability, to investigating a corporation’s compliance with environmental laws. The evidence and data found by forensic scientists is based on scientific investigation rather than circumstantial evidence or testimonies of witnesses. The reliability of their findings often convince attorneys, judges or juries that certain cases do not require a court hearing, and this forensic science helps eliminate the overall amount of cases entering the court system. These findings also assist in proving the occurrence of a crime or makes connections to a crime. The forensic scientist must be able to describe complex chemical reactions and functioning of scientific instruments or medical conditions for everyone to understand rather than in scientific jargon as an expert witness.

Forensic anthropology, a particular subset within forensics, specializes in human skeletal biology and often involves training in archaeological methods, skill in identifying skeletal materials, and identifying the dead. Forensic anthropology can include recovering human remains from various locations, such as deserts or locations, or in situations such as mass disasters including earthquakes or tsunamis. These specialists can also assist in recovering evidence at a crime scene due to their expertise in mapping techniques and excavation. Due to the wide range of duties given to a forensic anthropologist, a background in archaeology, physical and cultural anthropology, genetics, chemistry and anatomy would be most beneficial.

Techniques to determine sex, age, race, health status, marks of trauma and occupational stress, and stature in life help forensic anthropology. Forensic anthropologists can also work alongside forensic pathologists to determine cause of death. Some forensic anthropologists are skilled in facial reproduction and can model how a face may have looked using only skeletal remains, while others can determine time elapsed since death by examining insect remains and states of body decompositions.


Forensic anthropologists working in the academic world work through universities or institutions teaching classes and performing individual research projects. In the applied field, forensic anthropologists can work with law enforcement, coroners, or medical examiners. In these locations, forensic anthropologists often work with forensic pathologists, odontologists, and homicide investigators in order to identify a deceased, trauma to the skeleton or the postmortem interval.

Forensic scientists often work in laboratories, at crime scenes, in offices and in morgues. In particular, they may work for federal, state, or local governments, forensic laboratories, medical examiners offices, hospitals, universities, toxicology laboratories, police departments, medical examiner/ coroner offices, or as independent forensic science consultants. Forensic anthropologists work in similar areas, particularly in places where skeletons are examined.

Students interested in Crime Scene Analysis should pursue minors in Chemistry and Anthropology.

Forensic Psychology

The American Psychological Association features an article about Forensic Psychology:

Interest in forensic psychology has surged in recent years, primarily due to such television programs as “Criminal Minds,” where criminal profilers have an almost psychic ability to give elaborate personality and behavioral descriptions of perpetrators (“UNSUBs”). This is a misconception of the role that forensic psychologists play and leads to confusion about who is a forensic psychologist. Since forensic psychology is a relatively new field within psychology, it is still having growing pains. Thus, it would probably be best to start with a definition.
Most forensic psychology textbook authors describe forensic psychology as having a broad definition and a narrow definition. Forensic psychology, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is the application of clinical specialties to the legal arena. This definition emphasizes the application of clinical psychology to the forensic setting. Christopher Cronin, who has written a well-known textbook on forensic psychology, defines it as “The application of clinical specialties to legal institutions and people who come into contact with the law” (p. 5), again emphasizing the application of clinical skills such as assessment, treatment, evaluation to forensic settings. This is considered a narrow definition. The broad definition of forensic psychology emphasizes the application of research and experimentation in other areas of psychology (e.g., cognitive psychology, social psychology) to the legal arena. This would include applying results from studies in areas such as cognitive psychology to legal questions. Two good examples include Elizabeth Loftus’ many studies on eyewitness identification and Stephen Ceci’s research on children’s memory, suggestibility and competence to testify. Cronin labels this definition “legal psychology” or “The scientific study of the effect of the law on people, and the effect people have on the law.”
Thus, the practice  of forensic psychology, and perhaps the most frequent duty of forensic psychologists, is the psychological assessment of individuals who are involved, in one way or another, with the legal system. Therefore, although it is necessary to have training in law and forensic psychology, the most important skills a forensic psychologist must possess are solid clinical skills. That is, skills like clinical assessment, interviewing, report writing, strong verbal communication skills (especially if an expert witness in court) and case presentation are all very important in setting the foundation of the practice of forensic psychology. With these skills forensic psychologists perform such tasks as threat assessment for schools, child custody evaluations, competency evaluations of criminal defendants and of the elderly, counseling services to victims of crime, death notification procedures, screening and selection of law enforcement applicants, the assessment of post-traumatic stress disorder and the delivery and evaluation of intervention and treatment programs for juvenile and adult offenders. The practice of forensic psychology involves investigations, research studies, assessments, consultation, the design and implementation of treatment programs and expert witness courtroom testimony.
Arguably one of the most interesting assessments for a forensic psychologist is assessment in “mens rea” (insanity) cases. In the U.S., a person cannot be held responsible for a crime if he/she did not possess a “guilty mind” (mens rea) at the time the criminal act was committed. There are several conditions in which the law recognizes that a guilty mind is absent (e.g., self-defense). “Insanity” is not a psychological term but a legal one. The standard for insanity is determined by each state, and there is also a federal standard. A common standard is whether the person knew what he/she was doing was wrong. The forensic psychologist has to determine not how the person is functioning at the present moment, but his/her mental state at the time of the crime. Thus, much of the forensic psychologist’s work is retrospective and must rely on third-party information, collateral contacts and written communications (e.g., statements made at the time of the crime). Although there are master’s level degrees in forensic psychology, all forensic psychologists must have either a PhD or a PsyD degree from an APA-accredited or Canadian Psychological Association (CPA)-accredited doctoral program. They must also have the equivalent of two years of organized, sequential, supervised professional experience, one year of which is an APA- or CPA-accredited predoctoral internship. Often there are other requirements as well. The candidate can apply for licensure and sit for an oral or written exam (depending on the state where the candidate will be practicing). Practitioners can also become board certified (as diplomates) by the American Board of Forensic Psychology.
Forensic psychology has grown in the past 20 years. It is a broad applied field that offers numerous opportunities to the practitioner. Forensic psychologists work in many different legal environments, writing reports, giving testimony, doing direct treatment or working with therapeutic communities. In his book “Trials of a Forensic Psychologist: A Casebook,” Charles Patrick Ewing gives a clear picture of what it is like to evaluate, write and give testimony in court on difficult criminal cases. In many of Stephen Ceci’s and Elizabeth Loftus’s studies, forensic concerns change the nature of how we conceptualize memory and miscommunication. Forensic psychology is definitely here to stay.

Students interested in Forensic Psychology should pursue minors in Criminal Justice and Psychology.

Forensic Anthropology

The American Board of Forensic Anthropology provides the following list about forensic anthropology:

  • The analysis of skeletal, badly decomposed, or otherwise unidentified human remains is important in both legal and humanitarian contexts.
  • Forensic anthropologists apply standard scientific techniques developed in physical anthropology to analyze human remains, and to aid in the detection of crime.
  • In addition to assisting in locating and recovering human skeletal remains, forensic anthropologists work to assess the age, sex, ancestry, stature, and unique features of a decedent from the skeleton.
  • Forensic anthropologists frequently work in conjunction with forensic pathologists, odontologists, and homicide investigators to identify a decedent, document trauma to the skeleton, and/or estimate the postmortem interval.

Forensic Science

Students with a general interest in Forensic Science should obtain a pre-med concentration with a recommended minor in criminal justice.