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Criminalistics is one subdivision of forensic sciences. The terms criminalistics and forensic sciences are often confused and used interchangeably. Forensic sciences encompass a variety of scientific disciplines such as medicine , toxicology , anthropology , entomology , engineering, odontology , and of course, criminalistics. It is very difficult to provide an exact definition of criminalistics, or the extent of its application, as it varies from one location or country to another. However, the American Board of Criminalistics defines criminalistics as "that profession and scientific discipline directed to the recognition, identification , individualization, and evaluation of physical evidence by application of the physical and natural sciences to law-sciences matters." The California Association of Criminalistics provides a slightly different definition: "that professional occupation concerned with the scientific analysis and examination of physical evidence , its interpretation, and its presentation in court." These definitions are very similar to the ones used for forensic sciences, as both disciplines have as a goal to provide scientific analysis of evidence for the legal system.

It is also challenging to define a clear origin of criminalistics. The term comes from the German word Kriminalistik, invented by Austrian criminalist Hans Gross (18471915). While the field of criminalistics started long before Gross' time, the first serious and well-documented applications of scientific principles to a legal purpose, started in the middle of the nineteenth century. The famous novel hero Sherlock Holmes, invented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle , was probably the first fictional founder of criminalistics. The real recognition of criminalistics as a science by itself can be attributed to Hans Gross who published his book Handbuch fur Untersuchungsrichter als System der Kriminalistik in 1899. The development of anthropometry (the study of human physical dimensions) by French anthropologist Alphonse Bertillon (18531914) and of fingerprint analysis in the same period by Scottish scientist Henry Faulds (18431930), English scientist Francis Galton (18221911), and English Commissioner Sir Edward Henry (18501931), also contributed to the reinforcement of criminalistics. The progress made in forensic photography by Swiss criminalist Rodolphe-Archibald Reiss (18751929) was also a major contribution to the world of criminalistics. Finally, the beginning of the era of modern criminalistics is attributed to French criminalist Edmond Locard (18771966) and some of his pupils such as Swedish criminalist Harry Söderman (19021956). In the United States, the work of American criminalist Paul Kirk (19021970) reinforced the predominant position of criminalistics in forensic sciences.

As an integral part of the forensic sciences, criminalistics encompasses the broadest variety of disciplines. These commonly include the examinations of toolmarks , firearms , fingerprints, shoeprints , tire tracks , soil, fibers , glass , paint, serial numbers, light bulbs, drugs of abuse, questioned documents , fire and explosion, biological fluids , and last but not least, crime scenes. Criminalistics also typically includes physical evidence that is not directly studied by another field of forensic sciences. The main goal of criminalistics is to apply the principles of sciences to the examination of evidence in order to help the justice system determine that a crime has been committed, to identify its victim(s) and perpetrators, and finally, determine the modus operandi, or method of operation . Criminalistics uses other scientific disciplines to examine physical evidence. Among these are chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics. People performing criminalistics are referred to as criminalists.

Crime scene investigation consists of the detailed examination of a crime scene, and detection, recognition, and collection of pertinent evidence, as well as permanent documentation of the scene. Fingerprint examination consists of detection and revelation of fingerprints from different surfaces and comparison with other fingerprints, such as those provided by a suspect, in order to establish a link. Toolmarks, shoeprints, and tire tracks examination consists of recording and observing impressions in order to establish links with a potential tool, shoe, or tire. Drug analysis consists of the identification and quantification of a drug of abuse. The examination of biological fluids, also referred to as forensic serology , consists in the detection, recognition, and collection of body fluids and their subsequent analyses in order to identify the person from whom they originate. Trace evidence encompasses a large variety of minute pieces of evidence such as fibers, glass, soil, and paints. Traces are examined and compared to potential sources of origin in order to identify their origin. Questioned documents consist of the examination of documents to determine their authenticity or to identify forgery or counterfeiting, and of handwriting and signature analysis to identify the person who wrote them. The examination of serial numbers consists of the determination of their authenticity and the restoration of the ones that have been erased. The study of light bulbs consists of determining if they were on or off at time of their breakage. This is particularly helpful in road accident investigation.

see also American Academy of Forensic Sciences; Analytical instrumentation; Animal evidence; Anthropology; Anthropometry; Artificial fibers; Autopsy; Ballistic fingerprints; Bite analysis; Bloodstain evidence; Casting; CODIS: Combined DNA Index System; Crime scene investigation; Crime scene reconstruction; Death, cause of; Decomposition; DNA fingerprint; Entomology; Evidence; Exhumation; Fingerprint; Hair analysis; Impression evidence; Locard's exchange principle; Pathology; Quality control of forensic evidence; Trace evidence.

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