Forensic pathology is a branch of pathology that applies pathological principles to the legal profession. Forensic pathologists examine bodies and evidence such as bodily fluids and tissue samples in order to collect information that can be used in criminal investigations and court trials. Depending on the region where they work, they are known as medical examiners, coroners, or simply pathologists.
When forensic accountants, forensic document examiners, forensic psychiatrists, and other forensics professionals are discussed, some people mistakenly believe that the term “forensics” refers to forensic pathology. This causes a lot of confusion. The word “forensic” comes from the Latin forum, which means “pertaining to a trial.” When people began applying scientific methods to criminal investigations and legal trials in the 1800s, the field of forensics was born.
The study of disease and its processes is the focus of pathology in general. A forensic pathologist has specialized training in this field, as well as additional skills that can be applied in the legal field. For example, a pathologist can examine a body to determine the cause of death, but he or she can also look for other clues and information, such as defensive marks on the hands that indicate the victim fought back while being attacked.
The study of bodies, known as autopsy, or the analysis of samples taken at crime scenes or from the body are both examples of forensic pathology. When a complete body is not available for examination, the forensic pathologist can use the available materials to gather information that can be used in the investigation and eventual prosecution. They can also examine tissue and bodily fluid samples for toxins and other signs that could reveal more information about the cause of death, such as evidence that someone was suffocated and then submerged to make the death appear to be a drowning.
A forensic pathologist requires additional skills in addition to knowledge of human anatomy and pathology. He or she must be able to properly collect evidence and maintain the chain of custody to ensure that the evidence is not tampered with. In some cases, forensic pathologists may be called to testify on the witness stand, and in others, the defense may retain a forensic pathology expert to refute claims made a government or prosecution expert.