Forensic Science: A Background

Sam & Isabella

According to Richard Saferstein, author of Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science, there were a number of advancements made in the study of forensic science before and after the murder of Ada Brown. Forensic Toxicology was established as legitimate by the research work of Mathieu Orfila in 1814. Alphonse Bertillon developed anthropometry, which is a method in which body measurements are taken so that identification of specific persons can be made, distinguishing one person from the next. This was widely accepted and considered the most accurate method of personal identification for the next twenty years. However, this form of identification is inherently flawed because it is not necessarily an accurate form of identification. Fingerprinting did not begin to advance until the 1890s and blood typing did not surface until around 1915.  

The history of forensic science is extremely relevant to the understanding of both the murder of Ada Brown and the trials of Martin Harrison and George Gregory. In 1884, when Ada Brown was murdered there had already been some advancements in the field of science as a means to understand crime and convict people guilty of crimes. However, these advancements were limited. Due to the limited understanding of forensic science at this time, eye-witness testimonies were some of the biggest pieces of evidence in any criminal trial. This point is exemplified through the trials of both Harrison and Gregory, as their conflicting testimonies made it very difficult to convict the true culprit of murder. Not only that, but Harrison was even used to testify against Gregory after he had been convicted of manslaughter and then confessed to murdering Ada Brown. Without a deep understanding of forensic science and the ability to use that understanding in a court of law, investigators and prosecutors had to rely on witness testimonies, hoping that their witnesses were being truthful. However, when two witnesses, both potential murders, have differing stories, it makes true justice unlikely.

It is also important to note that due to the lack of technological advances in the field, there is a basis on physical evidence and eyewitness testimony. Court cases such as the murder of Ada Brown highlights this idea because of the large reliance on the blood being evident on the suspects and the murder weapon. Even though there is no proof or way to prove that the blood was in fact hers, the courts have no choice but to accept the idea that it may be.

Another thing to keep in mind is the cause of crime and types of crime that occurred within the 19th century. During the 1850’s to the 1880’s there was a crime epidemic due to social upheaval caused by immigration and civil war. Cases like the Murder of Ada Brown was not uncommon during this time period. On the other side of the country, a case known as Hurtado v. California (1884) occurred on almost the same premises. He had shot the man who had been sleeping with his wife. Although this is not exactly the same, it is quite similar. Criminal theory during this time also suggests that the individual was defective enough to cause a crime. This could be genetics, or other biological factors with the environment. The theory that goes along with this idea is the known as the biological theory. Since the theory focuses on the abnormality of the individual, punishment is not a mean of influencing behavior, but instead to protect the society. The idea of punishment not being  effective could very well contribute to the sentencing of both Harrison and Gregory.  

Saferstein, Richard. Criminalistics. 11th ed. N.p.: Pearson, 2015. Print.

By Explaining Criminal Behavior on the Basis of Social Factors as Well as Inherited Traits, Ferri Expanded the Scope of Criminology. “Criminology.”Criminology. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

The book, Criminal Justice A Brief Introduction by Frank Schmalleger Explaining Crime A primer in Criminological Theory by Hugh D. Barlow & David Kauzlarich

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