criminalist | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Investigations

A criminalist is a type of forensic scientist who specializes in the analysis of physical evidence collected from crime scenes.

A criminalist, a type of forensic scientist, plays a crucial role in the criminal justice system. Their job revolves around analyzing physical evidence gathered from crime scenes to assist in criminal investigations. This evidence may include blood, hair, fibers, bullet casings, or anything else that could provide information about a crime or link a suspect to the scene. The job of a criminalist is integral to solving crimes and ensuring justice is served, as their findings can help to piece together the circumstances of a crime and may be pivotal in court proceedings.

Techniques and Technologies Used by Criminalists

Criminalists employ a vast array of scientific techniques and technologies to scrutinize and interpret evidence. The choice of method often depends on the type of evidence they’re examining.

Fingerprint Analysis

Fingerprints are unique to each individual, making them valuable evidence in criminal investigations. Criminalists use techniques like dusting or chemical fuming to reveal latent fingerprints at a crime scene. They then analyze these prints, comparing them to those of suspects or to prints in a database.


In cases involving firearms, criminalists examine bullets, bullet casings, and gunshot residues to determine the type of firearm used, the angle of the shot, and other details. This branch of forensics, known as ballistics, can provide vital information about the events of a crime.

Where Do Criminalists Work?

Criminalists can work in a variety of settings depending on their specialization and the demand for their skills. Many are employed by law enforcement agencies, where they assist in criminal investigations. Some work in forensic laboratories, conducting detailed analyses of crime scene evidence. Others might work for private consulting firms, providing their expertise to private clients or attorneys. Regardless of their workplace, criminalists often work closely with police officers, detectives, attorneys, and other criminal justice professionals.

Training and Skills of a Criminalist

Becoming a criminalist requires a strong background in science. Most have a bachelor’s degree in a field like chemistry, biology, forensics, or a related discipline. Some positions might require a master’s degree or specialized training in a specific area of forensics.

Criminalists also need to be adept at using specialized equipment and software for analyzing evidence. Attention to detail is crucial, as the smallest piece of evidence can sometimes be the key to solving a case. Additionally, criminalists must be objective and methodical, ensuring their analyses are unbiased and accurate.

The Importance of a Criminalist’s Work

The role of a criminalist is vital in the pursuit of justice. Their meticulous analysis of physical evidence can provide the clues needed to solve a crime, identify a perpetrator, or exonerate an innocent person. They help to turn the physical remnants of a crime into a story that can be presented in court. Their findings, presented as expert testimony, can greatly influence a jury’s understanding of the facts of a case.

In conclusion, a criminalist is a forensic scientist who uses their expertise in analyzing and interpreting physical evidence to help unravel the mysteries of crime scenes. Their work, while often conducted behind the scenes, is integral to the functioning of the criminal justice system.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/15/2023


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