Science of Forensic Toxicology Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1438 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 9  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Forensic Toxicologists examine blood and other fluids extracted from victims of crimes as well as organs and other viscera removed from cadavers. Sophisticated modern techniques combining gas chromatography and mass spectrometry allow forensic toxicologists to identify thousands of specific substances by comparing samples with their known, catalogued chemical and physical molecular properties.

In modern law enforcement, forensic toxicologists collaborate with forensic pathologists to determine the precise cause of death, or to exclude toxic contamination where cause of death results from some other mechanism. Technically, toxicologists may only offer testimony as to the characteristics of various toxins, or hypothetical arguments based on elements of cases where they are not witnesses to the specific case in question.

Law enforcement applications of forensic toxicology is instrumental in many different types of investigations, whether determining the precise cause of death, or the circumstances surrounding it where the actual cause of death is already known or otherwise obvious. Just as important is the ability of criminal investigators to eliminate poisons or other toxic substances as causes of death.

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In criminal investigations not involving murder or other causes of human death, forensic toxicology is still crucial in the determination of both alcohol intoxication and illegal drug use or possession. Analyses of blood samples obtained after vehicular accidents and industrial catastrophes enable law enforcement and regulatory authorities to narrow their investigative focus in accordance with the factors actually responsible.

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Established principles of forensic toxicology have also led to the development of field tests employed by drug recognition experts, as well as by ordinary police personnel for preliminary field testing of suspected controlled substances in the possession of subjects pursuant to on-the-spot criminal investigations or drug transportation interdiction, enabling the taking of appropriate enforcement action and substantiation of criminal charges.

Violent crime investigators rely on forensic toxicology to match suspects in rape and other sexual assaults by DNA sequencing of bodily fluids while absolutely excluding innocent suspects. Similarly, homicide investigators employ principles originally perfected by forensic toxicologists to test subjects for the microscopic presence of gun powder residue on their hands while eliminating those uninvolved.

Other modern law enforcement tactical tools that incorporate basic forensic toxicology principles include the breathalyzer, routinely used throughout this country and others) in conjunction with DUI enforcement efforts. The benefit of these tools is that they provide instant data for use in the field, where immediate thorough laboratory analysis is impractical if not altogether impossible. Where necessary, preliminary field results are subjected to more thorough, extensive testing for definitive confirmation of preliminary results obtained in the field.

The parole branch of law enforcement also employs forensic toxicology in testing urine samples for illicit substances, in addition to hair testing, which, in principle, is capable of detecting drug use going back many months, depending primarily on the available length of the sample strands.

One of the most recent applications of forensic toxicological science concerns the explosion of so-called "designer drugs" such as ecstasy, implicated in the deaths of several teenagers annually, and GHB (Gamma Hydroxybutyrate), sometimes used as a date-rape drug, owing to the ease with which it can be added to drinks surreptitiously. In the case of unexpected (sometimes fatal) consequences associated with largely unregulated herbal "health food" products such as Ephedra and Androstenedione, forensic toxicologists identify the mechanism in order for the FDA to take regulatory action to protect consumers.

Finally, since the 2001 attack on America, law enforcement agencies have redoubled their efforts to prevent terrorism, in connection with which they routinely distribute test kits developed from forensic toxicological principles in order to detect and identify minute, trace amounts of explosives, as well as suspected biological or bacteriological substances at high value targets such as the United States

Congress as well as so-called soft targets, such as the major components in the hub of United States postal routing stations across the nation.


1. Barret, Sylvia. The Arsenic Milkshake. Toronto: Doubleday (1994)

2. Evans, Colin. The Casebook of Forensic Detection.

New York: Wiley (1996)

3. Mega Links in Criminal Justice Website. Forensic Toxicology.

Last Updated January 6, 2004. Accessed May 6, 2004, at

4. Thorwald, Jurgen. The Century of the Detective.

New York: Harcourt Brace (1964)

5. Trestrail, John, H. Criminal Poisoning.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Science of Forensic Toxicology" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Science of Forensic Toxicology.  (2004, May 11).  Retrieved September 22, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Science of Forensic Toxicology."  11 May 2004.  Web.  22 September 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Science of Forensic Toxicology."  May 11, 2004.  Accessed September 22, 2020.