Forensic Science and Criminal Justice

MOOC, 6 weeks

This is for you if... you are fascinated by the way the police and courts use science in criminal investigations and criminal justice.

Course Description

Over the past two decades the Criminal Justice System has been dramatically affected by technological advances in scientific contributions to the law. The most influential developments have been in the area of DNA profiling, and its forensic applications for both identifying perpetrators and exonerating the innocent.

Although there have been some extraordinary victories for the forensic science community in recent years, there has also more recently been scepticism about the infallibility of some forensic science practices, and the interpretation of physical evidence in the courtroom.

This course examines how forensic science is used in the courtroom, considers the debates around biometric databases, and looks at how forensic science is portrayed in popular media (the so-called 'CSI effect').

On this course you will learn about the history of forensic science (such as how DNA fingerprinting was invented right here at the University of Leicester) and consider the implications that these techniques have on the criminal justice system. You will also explore the future of forensic science and where the discipline may be heading in the years to come.

Staff from our Departments of Criminology and Chemistry will guide you through the course and help you explore the role that forensic science plays in the Criminal Justice System and some of the controversies that arise when science is applied to the law.

How a MOOC works

MOOCs are flexible courses which allow you to participate at your own pace. Once a course has started you can study the week’s material at a time that suits you. You do not need to be online at the same time as the other students. There is no requirement to visit Leicester - although you would always be very welcome if you want to come and have a look around campus.

If you want to leave your course at any point you may do so, whether or not it has already begun. You can sign up for the same course when it runs again if you want to have another go at it. There is no limit on the number of MOOCs you can take: if you think you have the time to do several simultaneously, that's fine.

If you have any questions about this course, join us for a live online chat with academic tutors and admissions staff.

Key Facts
Department
Criminology, Chemistry
Contact
Please address all enquiries to FutureLearn.

Why Leicester?

The University of Leicester is one of the UK's leading research and teaching universities with over 25 years' experience of offering high quality distance learning courses.

Our Department of Criminology is a first point of contact for journalists needing information and advice on crime issues, and we are regularly called upon by national and local governments to assist with policy development.

The University of Leicester was the birthplace of genetic fingerprinting, discovered here in 1985 by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys.

Course Structure

Week 1

Week 1

Introduction to the Use of Science in Criminal Investigations

  • What is forensic science, and how is it helpful for solving crime?
  • Research on the web a case where forensic science played a crucial role in solving the crime. Consider what the evidence type was and why it was so useful.
  • Why some evidence types are more useful than others
  • Research on the web a case where forensic science was used to mislead the jury, which led, eventually, to the conviction being overturned on appeal.
  • Describe the first case you have researched (where science helped convict the offender) and discuss why things went well in court. Look at the cases and evidence types other students have chosen to see how some evidence types are more useful and common than others.

Modules shown represent choices available to current students. The range of modules available and the content of any individual module may change in future years.

Week 2

Week 2

The History of Forensic Science

  • Forensic science in the 19th and early 20th centuries
  • Research on the web the first murder in your country to be solved by fingerprint evidence. Consider whether the scenario and evidence would be as valid today.
  • Forensic science in the modern world.
  • Research on the web the first murder to be solved by DNA in the UK, and how the offender tried to evade being identified from their DNA.
  • Considering again the first murder in your country to be solved by fingerprint evidence, discuss what might be different in the way the police went about investigating the forensic aspects of the case if it occurred today.

Modules shown represent choices available to current students. The range of modules available and the content of any individual module may change in future years.

Week 3

Week 3

Current Debates about DNA Databases

  • The history of biometric databases around the world.
  • The UK National DNA Database: Successes and controversy
  • Using the internet, look up at least two countries of your choice and determine whether they have a national DNA database. When were the databases established? How many people are on these databases? How do they compare to the UK database?
  • Human rights and DNA databases: Does the right to privacy outweigh the crime fighting potential of DNA?
  • In your assigned roles, discuss the pros and cons of having a national DNA database which includes mandatory samples from all members of society. How would an all-inclusive database impact on your various roles in the Criminal Justice System?

Modules shown represent choices available to current students. The range of modules available and the content of any individual module may change in future years.

Week 4

Week 4

The CSI Effect - Forensic Science in the Popular Media

  • The emergence of forensic fiction since 2000
  • What is the CSI Effect?
  • Watch at least one episode of a forensic fiction television show (or movie), such as CSI, NCIS, Bones etc. Note which forensic techniques were used throughout the episode, and whether you think that the forensic science was portrayed accurately. In addition, how was the role of the crime scene examiner portrayed? Use the discussion board to tell your classmates about the episode you watched, and what you observed/noted.
  • What is wrong with the portrayal of forensic science in fiction?
  • Use the internet to look up the cases/trials of Robert Blake (USA) and Barry George (UK). Do you think that the jury made the right decision in these cases? How might the CSI Effect be to blame for these trial outcomes? Discuss your views on these questions, and the outcomes of these trials, from the perspective of your assigned Criminal Justice role.

Modules shown represent choices available to current students. The range of modules available and the content of any individual module may change in future years.

Week 5

Week 5

Forensic Science in the Courtroom

  • The role of forensic experts in criminal courts
  • Do juries understand forensic science testimony?
  • Explore the cases available on the Innocence Project website , and read about some of the cases which were caused (at least in part) by faulty forensic science testimony
  • Recent miscarriages of justice involving fingerprint evidence
  • In your assigned roles, discuss some of the cases you have read about concerning forensic science in the courtroom and miscarriages of justice involving forensic science. How could each of your roles in the Criminal Justice System contribute to improving the system, and reducing future wrongful convictions?

Modules shown represent choices available to current students. The range of modules available and the content of any individual module may change in future years.

Week 6

Week 6

The Future of Forensic Science

  • Where is forensic science going?
  • Research on the web the Shirley McKie case and consider how this has changed fingerprint practice in Scotland.
  • New technology for forensic science
  • Research on the web a news story where a new forensic breakthrough is being described. Consider whether this is likely to have an impact on solving crime with forensic science.
  • In your assigned roles, discuss the implications of developing DNA technology to provide the police with more information about the identity of the suspect such as hair colour, height or congenital abnormalities (for instance a birth defect, physical anomaly or genetic disorder).

Modules shown represent choices available to current students. The range of modules available and the content of any individual module may change in future years.

Teaching and Assessment

The course uses a mix of videos, articles and activities, with plenty of opportunities for discussion with fellow learners and further research.

At the end of each week of the course there is normally a set of multiple choice questions to test your understanding of what you have learned, and this will count towards your overall course score. Please note that this is a FutureLearn score, and is not valid as credit for other courses at the University of Leicester - although a MOOC is a great 'taster' for university learning.

Weeks 3-6 involve discussion activities which require students to assume one of the four Criminal Justice System roles when discussing a particular topic/debate about forensic science. Depending on the capabilities of the platform, you could be assigned to one role for the duration of the course, or you could be assigned to a different role per week.

Criminal Justice System roles:

  • Police Officer – representing the interests of the police, in terms of law enforcement and criminal investigations
  • Forensic Expert/Crime Scene Investigator – recovery and analysis of forensic evidence from crime scenes, and expert testimony in the criminal courts
  • Lawyer/Judge – representing the point of view of the legal system and the criminal court process
  • Member of the public – this role represents the average member of society, who may one day find themselves serving on a jury or being a victim of crime

Entry Requirements

There are no entry requirements for the current range of MOOCs available from the University of Leicester. You simply need an internet connection and a computer or tablet device. Some other courses may specify expected levels of understanding or experience in certain areas but this will be made clear before signing up for the course.

English Language Requirements

There are no specific English language requirements for our MOOCs. However, to get the most out of this course you should have a reasonable command of written English.

Fees and Funding

  • Enjoy this course for free - there are no fees for any of our MOOCs.

  • Enjoy this course for free - there are no fees for any of our MOOCs.

Career Opportunities

If this is a subject that fascinates you, why not consider some of our courses in Criminology or Forensic Science?

Undergraduate

Postgraduate

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Forensic Science and Criminal Justice 6 weeks Apply Now
Course
Forensic Science and Criminal Justice
Duration
6 weeks
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