*Abbreviations under the "Available" column: A = Available // NA = Not Available // R = Previously Registered // WL = Currently on the Wait List

Evolution of the US Criminal Justice System and the Role of Science


As societies developed it was recognized that protection of the individual’s life and property required a system of laws, enforcement, and punishment. As the methods of defining criminal acts evolved, the roles of different individuals in the justice system evolved. One of the most important modern elements in the criminal justice system has been the contributions of the scientist. This course will trace the evolution of the criminal justice system in the United States with particular attention to the role of the scientific expert witness. From the times when photographs were not considered as reliable evidence, the role of the scientist has increased in helping to identify and catch criminals and ultimately to assist jurors (or judges) determine the guilt or innocence of an individual at trial. While a number of characteristics have been used in the past to identify criminals, the advent of characterizing an individual’s DNA has dramatically changed the role of the forensic scientist. This course will trace the evolution of these testing methods and the work that was necessary for them to be accepted as scientifically reliable. Other scientific methods of identifying elements of a crime or for use as “class” evidence will be considered as well. The ability of scientific instrumentation to detect and test materials at a crime scene or to prevent crimes will be explored with particular emphasis on the detection of energetic materials (explosives).  

Instructor Bio:

Dr. Allen came to UVA in 1970 and was promoted through the ranks in the Department of Chemistry. Because of his interdisciplinary interests and research he was also a Professor in the Department of Environmental Science and the Department of Public Health Science. He authored over one hundred publications on lunar and meteoritic analysis, application of nuclear analytical techniques to archaeology, trace elements in cancer, radiation effects, analytical chemistry and forensic science. He was awarded fellowships for research in Norway by the Royal Norwegian Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (1977) and Norwegian Marshall Fund (1983), and awarded the Erikson Award by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for service to the forensic science community. Dr. Allen has been a tour speaker for the American Chemical Society since 1984 and has served as a consultant for the International Atomic Energy Agency on radioactive waste disposal methods. He directed the decommissioning of two nuclear research reactors at the University of Virginia. He  created the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, and acted as the Director from 1979 until his retirement in 2015.

Recommended Reading:

Shelton, Donald E. Forensic Science in Court, 2011. This book is not required, but it does provide a point of view from a jurist.

Course Number Instructor Dates Day Time Location Available
A02 Ralph Allen Sep 18, 25, Oct 2, 9, 16, 23 Mo 11:00-12:30 p.m. Homewood Suites A

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