The forensics agenda-A A +A
Friday, February 22, 2013
REGIONAL Trail Court (RTC) Judge Ray Alan T. Drilon vented his exasperation on his Facebook blog: “How then are crimes solved? Trial and error and the so called witnessed based investigation, kon wala testigos ano? Imbento?”
This was an irritated response to a Police Regional Office 6 report that 30 percent of police investigators in Western Visayas have insufficient training in crime scene investigations. Shoddy information gathering implies low conviction rates for accused felons.
Of course, that disheartening figure is a subset of a larger picture. Take the war against illegal drugs. Nationwide, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) showed last year a low conviction rate in drug cases. Consolidated PDEA case monitors nationwide reveal that less than 52 percent of the total number of cases filed ended with court decisions in favor of drug law enforcers. Inconsistencies in testimony and the non-appearance of prosecution witnesses were cited as reasons that lead to the dismissal of the drug cases.
Chief Supt. Agrimero Cruz, regional police director of Western Visayas, said the month-long Criminal Investigation Course will help police investigators become more scientific in their work, avoiding reliance on the usual witness-based investigations.
Judge Drilon can only agree with Cruz. “I should know. I have yet to hear cases where evidence gathered or lifted from the crime scene is used in the prosecution.” He added that “testimonial evidence could be unreliable, it is now time that science should play a major role in police work.”
But there are more problems with the PNP investigators in their case build-ups. Drilon cited some more reasons that are laughable if it’s not so pathetic. “Make a visit of the police offices we have in this country, and ask if they have dusting powder for prints, you will be surprised. Or the classic excuse of one police precinct head, that they were not going on patrol because the police vehicle broke down and has no gas.”
Other ouch moments for our law enforcers Judge Drilon continues, “We talk of reforming the justice system and usually blame the courts or the prosecutors,” but the “reforms should start at the law enforcement end.
They gather the evidence which is used by the prosecutor in court. Poor crime detection and investigative techniques, means weak case in court.”
Kudos to Chief Supt. Cruz therefore for recognizing his organization’s weaknesses. He insisted that police investigators today must consider the crime scene as the most reliable source of evidence to support the filing of a case. Gone were the days when cases could not be filed when no witness is available.
Prosecution should learn to cover all the bases, from the sworn affidavits and oral testimonies of a witness, under oath, to the trier of fact, that is, the judge. The ordinary witness can testify only on the basis of personal knowledge of a situation gained through the use of his five senses. He may not express opinions formed on any other basis.
In contrast, the forensic scientist can testify not only on the basis of personal knowledge, but also in the form of opinion based or informed evaluation of the evidence presented and scientific tests performed and interpreted within the bounds of her skills, experience, and ability. A forensic scientist is an “expert” witness as opposed to an ordinary or “fact” witness.
As Dr. Paul L. Kirk, hailed as the Father of Criminalistics, wrote, “Wherever (a criminal) steps, whatever he touches, whatever he leaves, even unconsciously, will serve as silent evidence against him. Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibers from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen that he deposits or collects—all these and more bear mute witness against him. This is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused by the excitement of the moment.
“It is not absent because human witnesses are. It is factual evidence. Physical evidence cannot be wrong; it cannot perjure itself; it cannot be wholly absent. Only its interpretation can err. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it, can diminish its value.”
Please email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 22, 2013.