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JIS News

With new techniques and technologies being employed in the overall efforts to investigate and solve crimes, in recent years, forensic medicine has proven to be vital particularly in cases that feature circumstantial evidence.
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Paula Llewellyn tells JIS News that, “Forensic medicine is most often applied to sexual offence and murder cases, but it is found particularly in cases where proof depends largely on circumstantial evidence. This causes the jury to infer,” she says.
Forensic medicine is that branch of medicine that interprets and establishes the medical facts in civil or criminal law cases. It is typically involved in cases concerning blood relationship, mental illness, and injury or death relating to violence.
The categories of forensic medicine, include, among others: pathology, anthropology, alcohol analysis, entomology, chemical analysis, Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing, dental records, and toxicology.
Ms. Llewellyn is however warning that such evidence, while it is helpful, and has proven to be practical in the Jamaican jurisprudence must always be thoroughly examined.
“Irrespective of the fact that we have to prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt, circumstantial evidence must always be narrowly examined,” she advises.
The DPP adds that while the evidence gathered through forensic medicine is meticulously scrutinized and the prosecution or defence may put forward other types of evidence, such as eyewitness reports, it is not sufficient to prove that an accused is guilty or innocent. This duty she adds is left up to the judge or jury in the case of a trial.
“The scientist… whether the doctor, or the consultant forensic pathologist, or the DNA expert, is not allowed in law to tell the jury that this DNA profile that I did says conclusively that it is the accused. And cases have been struck out on appeal for that. The analyst or the forensic expert only need to outline what his or her findings were and it is for the jury to decide what they make of it in combination and consideration with all the other evidence,” she asserts.
The use of DNA analysis in Jamaica, was first used in a criminal trial in 1997, in the case of the crown versus Bernard Chang.
“The Bernard Chang case was the case in which Jamaica used DNA for the first time. This case was about a bank manager in Montego Bay, Vivienne Griffiths who was killed by the accused and his confederates. The case dealt mainly with circumstantial evidence, where a post mortem was performed and the body was identified as that of the 37 year old bank manager. The cause of the death was due to blunt force injury to the head. A sample of her blood was taken and revealed to be type A,” the DPP recounts, adding that investigations led to the accused Bernard Chang, who was found to be in possession of a number of items belonging to the deceased.
“The accused was investigated, (and) at the station he was searched and a silver and gold pen, a Bank of Nova Scotia passbook, a citizens ABM card and two thousand and twenty dollars all belonging to the deceased was removed from him. Interestingly the shoe of Bernard Chang was minutely examined by the expert and on the tongue aspects of the shoe blood were found. DNA analysis was done on that and on a pair of linen pants found at his house with bloodstain during investigation by the police,” the Director of Public Prosecution says.
She notes that after the use of all the evidence, including testimonies from eye witnesses on behalf of the prosecution, including the DNA expert, Mr. Chang pled guilty.
“The case was way above our heads (prosecutor, jury, and defence) and after trying to bring the evidence alive so that the jury and judge could understand, I called my fifteenth witness who was the DNA expert, and after a day of going through all the (exhibits, and the findings) evidence, counsel indicated that the accused, Mr. Chang, had decided to change his plea and he pleaded guilty. This was a very interesting case because we did not think that the time would come for us to use DNA in cases,” the DPP says.
She adds that the criminal justice system has come a long way since that first case, to the point where it’s commonplace for DNA reports to be available for use as evidence in court.
“The use of DNA in so many of the cases that we have prosecuted has become common place. It is important but as prosecutors we have the choice to decide if we need it or can do without it,” she informs.
Another case, which she pointed to, was that of the Crown versus Mary Lynch, where dental records, along with tests performed on remnants of a jawbone were used to prove that the deceased was the husband of the accused. DNA evidence also featured in the case of the Crown versus Janet Douglas, where Ms. Douglas was convicted of murder.
The Government recently announced plans to establish a DNA database and to improve the forensic laboratory. Ms. Llewellyn is calling for an increase in investment in this area of the justice systems, as she says it will help to strengthen the system.
“I hope the authorities will devote more resources to make sure that the investigators, prosecutors and defence counsel and the court have available to it the best possible evidence in terms of the whole integrity of what forensic evidence is supposed to be about,” DPP Llewellyn.