Blood, Powder, and Residue: How Crime Labs Translate Evidence into Proof

Princeton Univ. Jan. 2021. 208p. ISBN 9780691183589. $29.95. CRIME
Bechky (sociology, New York Univ.) offers a thorough account of the conclusions she’s drawn from working with forensic scientists, whom she terms “criminalists,” within an unnamed metropolitan crime lab. She seeks to demonstrate the exacting work of forensic science, which includes DNA profiling, narcotics, toxicology, and firearms examination. Underlying the work is the tension of translating the results for nonscientists in the criminal justice sphere, with the burden of having to testify in court always looming. The stakes are high, which is not helped by the public’s outsize expectations; popular TV shows such as the CSI franchise present unrealistic portrayals of forensics, with fast turnaround times and implausible results. Bechky emphasizes that while the science is carefully analyzed, the results are still subjective and must be carefully interpreted and placed in context. Criminalists must maintain the integrity of the science in the face of an adversarial criminal justice culture, in which attorneys frequently seek to bend the science to suit legal ends. Bechky can become repetitive, but this doesn’t hinder the value of this important dive into a field many people misconceive.
VERDICT Highly recommended for true crime collections; fans of books and documentaries with an emphasis on forensics such as Making a Murderer and The Staircase will especially enjoy.
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