What TV and Movies get Completely Wrong about Forensics

By now a lot of people have watched shows such as Bones, at least one of the CSI’s, NCIS, and the list goes on. There are likely quite a few people that have been inspired to get into the field of forensic science to see if they have what it takes, only to find out that it’s not as exciting as one might think. If a person gets to work a high-profile case it’s kind of rare and it’s not bound to turn out as it does on TV or in the movies, since there’s a lot of busywork that TV shows and movies don’t tend to show. The truth is that while forensics can be an impressive field it takes a lot of work and study to get into such a profession, and there’s a lot more to it than getting to analyze and compile data that can help law enforcement agencies catch criminals. The movies and TV shows make it look glamorous and even attractive at times as a profession, but the reality is that a person will likely be doing more paperwork than crime-solving.

Here are just a few things that TV and the movies get wrong about forensics.

5. Instant death can occur at any time. Not really, instant death is possible, but not in the same way some people think.

It is possible for death to be instantaneous, but this usually requires such a precise shot or such massive trauma that the cause of death is bound to be kind of easy to ascertain. In most cases the cause of death won’t be instant and will need to be sorted out, meaning that the time of death will need to be established and the method will need to be determined unless it’s just that obvious. A forensic scientist will usually be able to determine that death is not instantaneous largely because after being shot, stabbed, or subjected to a great deal of trauma, the human body will continue to function for a while as it tries to survive.

4. Death doesn’t mean that one has to look disheveled. Given that a lot of people don’t expect to die at any moment, death can be kind of messy.

The movies and TV shows have been getting better about this over the years since the crime scenes that have been fabricated have at times been a little more realistic. But death is rarely the chance for someone to appear perfectly coiffed and as beautiful as can be. Some individuals in the movies and TV shows looked as though they could have just drifted off in their sleep after getting ready for the day, but this usually isn’t the case since death spasms, a fight before dying, or pretty much just the act of trying to survive will leave a victim in a disheveled state that isn’t always what directors want to see.

3. Time of death is an exact measure. Unless a person was there to note what time it was when the person expired, no it’s not.

Having to guess at the time of death does tend to make a forensic specialist look and sound a little less impressive, which isn’t good for TV or the movies, so we tend to hear exact times that a person expired. But trying to determine the exact time that a person died isn’t entirely possible sometimes. It has been seen on at least one or more TV shows that a coroner will attempt to narrow the period of time in which a person died based on outside temperature, the state of the body, and other factors that can come in handy when making such a determination. Otherwise, it’s not quite that exact.

2. Poison is able to be detected and kills quickly. First, one needs to have a working knowledge of said poisons, and two, no, just no.

There are several powerful poisons in the world that can work quickly but the ability to get hold of them is so incredibly difficult that tracking them down isn’t quite that difficult, meaning the killer would be painting a huge target on their back. But as far as fast-acting, there are substances that are classified as toxins that are capable of showing harmful effects very quickly, but again, the most powerful among them are hard to procure in significant quantities. Plus, the kind of poisons that are used in shows and movies tend to need to accumulate in the system to become truly harmful.

1. Every forensics lab is top-notch and absolutely professional. Seriously, sometimes duct tape is a forensic expert’s best friend.

The budget that’s needed for a forensic lab is kind of tough to come by when it’s all laid out, but for those that can afford all the equipment, they need it’s easy enough to believe that everything is high-tech and able to do what it needs to. But the reality is that a lot of forensic departments run on a budget and need to make do with what they have most times.

If you’re ready for forensics get ready for a lot of paperwork.

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