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WIREs Forensic Sci

Trace evidence? The term trace from adjective to noun

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Abstract Unfortunate inconsistency and confusion exists with respect to the term trace evidence. With the term trace evidence, “trace” is commonly used as an adjective to connote the small size of materials (often microscopic) that can be used to aid in an investigation by providing linkages, or associations, between potential suspects, victims, and scenes. This article proposes a resolution of the conflicting definitions of trace evidence. Rather than the widely held view of trace evidence having only associative value, we advocate for the historic and broader conceptualization of the physical traces produced during an event. In this concept, the term trace is a noun. Such traces address interrogatives to develop an understanding of the physical record and a reconstruction of the activities taking place during events under investigation. Additionally, it must be recognized that adherence to the scientific method during an investigation is imperative for the understanding of traces, and, at a minimum, input by educated and experienced scientists is required to maximize the value that traces contribute to investigations. This article is categorized under: Forensic Science in Action/Crime Scene Investigation > Epistemology and Method Forensic Science in Action/Crime Scene Investigation > Crime Scene Reconstruction Forensic Chemistry and Trace Evidence > Trace Evidence

With time passing and the occurrence of further activities in this environment, the physical clues of interest, meaning the footwear track, are obscured by traces resulting from subsequent activities not related to the event of interest. Note that the figure does not include pre‐existing background traces (i.e., noise).

Source: Kind (), Reproduced with kind permission of Prof. Dave Barclay

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A condensed schematic illustrating the process of recognition and interrogation of traces when approaching and conducting an event investigation in the field and/or on seized items at the laboratory. The double arrow from the “who” to the associative traces box represents the dual function of this question as both interrogatable and associative. However, note that there is no arrow connecting “what” to the associative traces box as one might expect because the question “what happened?” is here regarded as more important than the traditional “what is it?” question
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Forensic Chemistry and Trace Evidence > Trace Evidence
Forensic Science in Action/Crime Scene Investigation > Crime Scene Reconstruction
Forensic Science in Action/Crime Scene Investigation > Epistemology and Method

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