Perspectives on Law Enforcement and Forensic Chemistry

by B.H.S. Thimmappa

The Rule of Law and Justice

Forensic chemistry and law have complementary roles in identifying criminals. The art of forensic investigation and the importance of active law practice can provide legal evidence, eventually helping to put criminals behind bars. The joint application of the experimental approach of chemistry, along with the legal systems of the land, can help solve a particular case. The progressive development of forensic research laboratories in India and across the world, and the amendments to criminal laws have made the proper identification of criminals through a critical evaluation process. We can solve crime problems with systematic and constructive identification of the criminals and provide a clear-cut message to society by punishing the guilty. Regular review of laws by putting them under the microscope and replacing obsolete laws with new ones to rebuild the justice system that will improve the overall justice delivery system. Nearly 43 % of the newly-elected Lok Sabha 2019 members have declared criminal charges against them and the cases are related to rape, murder, and attempt to murder or crime against women. The total number of pending cases of all types at all levels is around 5 crores. The pendency of cases in the 25 high courts of India was 59 lakhs and 70 thousand in the Supreme court in 2022 while about 72 thousand cases are more than 30 years old, reflecting the sad state of affairs in the disposal of cases. As courts take a long time to hear cases, justice delayed is justice denied indeed. Ordinary people who are empathetic, informed, and concerned enough for justice are vulnerable with each turn of the page in real-life court proceedings. A compassionate look at what ails the larger society indicates the hopes and tentative dreams of those who live on the fringe. We have to bring out a long-term social change in the larger interest of the nation to establish deeper connections between science, society, and perceptive observers of the country.


We all work towards the ideals of social justice and harmony using body, mind, and intellect. If we look at the strife and struggle, tension and turmoil, shooting and looting, suffering and suffocating, hatred and violence, dissonance and injustice, war and loss of dignity, civil disorder and crime, and terror and trafficking, it is clear that we need to find order in disorder/chaos. An ideal society based on notions of equality, social harmony, economic prosperity, and political stability is a tall order indeed. We need to change the system, realize the need to fight for justice/democratic values, pay extra attention to social well-being, encourage youngsters to enter politics in large numbers, be more active in terms of citizen participation, demand our members in parliament to do more, embrace modern scientific thinking and hard-work culture and use natural resources sustainably and become a prosperous, harmonious democracy. This is an attempt to spark a rethink and to establish deeper connections between chemistry, communities, and law of the land and highlight the role of chemistry in crime investigation today. An inside perspective comes from stretching our imagination to efficiency (doing things right) and effectiveness (doing the right things right) to stimulate reliable and objective judgment without any bias or preconceived notions. The sequence of concrete action steps should be logical in particular law subject areas, the proper people with specialized expertise or experience should be involved and the deadlines should be reasonable considering specific rationalized reasons to complete quickly in a time management framework.

 We have to move away from unjust and corrupt global tyranny to a just and peaceful one-world order, barren ecological wasteland to green ecosystem preservation, from spiritual darkness and religious conflict to spiritual development and religious harmony as the desired outcome in the future world. India ranks 85 in the transparency international corruption index.   Anti-corruption movements on all levels, digitalization of procedures and payments, and positive individual and collective attitudes will go a long way in achieving a vision for a just, tolerant, secular, and humane India. Balanced justice comes from accountability, community safety, and competency development among the victim, offender, and community. Inculcating the core human values of life like right conduct, non-violence, peace, truth, and love at a young age would have a collective impact on rejecting the wrong values. Independence, responsibility, manners, helpfulness, courage, consideration, cooperation, justice, respect, patience, concentration, contentment, thankfulness, self-discipline, truthfulness, honesty, fairness, trust, reflection, kindness, friendship, forgiveness, compassion, generosity, tolerance, and service must be cultivated in each individual through institutional teaching-learning interactions at physical, emotional and intellectual levels. The laws of the land are a fundamental element of all societies, and it deals with every aspect of life from traffic offenses to mass murder. Police and courts are responsible for enforcing the law that exists to regulate society using the rules and regulations/standards. The types of law include civil, criminal, family, and religious law. A uniform civil code is yet to emerge which is essential in a country like India comprising many religions, languages, and cultures in the fight against injustice.

General disorder in the neighborhood leads to increased antisocial behavior and eventually to serious crime. If a civil disorder is eliminated, then serious crimes would drop. There are several issues and concerns in law-making and law-enforcing bodies. For instance, frequent disturbances disrupting proceedings, forced adjournments for several days at a stretch, heavy absenteeism witnessed in the Parliament, essential bills not being moved, and public servants becoming the source of power and patronage with vested interests. An alert and intelligent public opinion matters in the task of nation-building and provision for the representation of people to strengthen democratic values and principles suggests we enhance the quality of people elected to the Parliament. India’s people need to be an active part of the political process or decision-making. Hopes and concerns of citizens by taking practical actions considering public moods and mass aspirations. It is essential to establish fast-track courts, special mobile courts, Lok adalats, shift systems in lower courts, local level courts, digital courts, and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to expedite the delivery of justice. Further judicial education and training for the younger generation and rooting out judicial corruption mercilessly are necessary for India. In the judicial system, the truth is subject to confirmation/contradiction on inquiry, the veiling power hides the real where truth is manipulated, and projection power reveals other than the real, creating an illusion. There are several loopholes in the Indian justice delivery system where rules and specific regulations are very poorly drafted and possible multiple interpretations make the matter more complicated, often leading to disputes and litigations. Rampant misuse of Indian laws is yet another issue. Many of the complaints filed under the dowry prevention laws in India are not bona fide and may lead to uncalled-for harassment of the accused, and arrest may ruin the chances of settlement. The awareness programs involving people’s participation using improved technology will encourage them to engage in lawful activities. Lawyers should act as a strong force in the reformation of society in the right spirit. Nowadays, graduates are obtaining their degrees despite not being skilled enough to be a productive part of the Indian economy or able to perform socially productive useful work. The rise in educated unemployment/underemployment could lead to Naxalism, resulting in law and order problems. Directing the energy of the younger generation into constructive channels, the use of improved technology, greater awareness, and people’s participation would lead to a pool of law-abiding citizens.

 Different types of crimes include white-collar/drug/organized/political/victimless/street crimes,  hizaking/murder/smuggling/shoplifting/speeding/terrorism/theft/torture/vandalism, cyber crimes such as hacking/information theft/e-mail bombing/phishing/software piracy/system blocking/virus dissemination/computer vandalism/cyber terrorism/software piracy, mob lynching, narcotics distribution, gambling, money laundering, human trafficking, bank robberies, kidnaping, and illegal sale or distribution of firearms. There are several examples of crimes in India including cyanide Mohan and Mallika, Lalu Prasad Yadav, M. Kasab, Harshad Mehta, Vijay Mallya, Shashikala, Asaram Bapu, and Gurmit Ram Rahim to name a few. A growing epidemic of crimes by children such as robbery, homicides, murder, and negative digital behavior today is shaping the society of tomorrow. Other major issues include data theft, torture behind bars, redefining environmental jurisprudence, public health legislation, capital punishment, accident cases, cheque bounce cases, food adulteration, and speed of delivery of justice. It is essential to set things right again to solve macro-, meso- and micro-issues related to psychological and physical violence, caste or gender-based discrimination, exclusion, and injustice through public education, community research, technology, and social media on the path forward and social change for the better should become the new normal. The interconnected nature of chemistry and law involves learning across disciplines and the application of chemistry concepts to crime investigations. Chemistry plays a pivotal role in many crimes and chemistry experts can offer scientific opinions that provide crucial substantive or demonstrative scientific evidence. A small shift in the angle of our thinking can lead to massive alterations in how knowledge society operates toward sustainable development. The law has the potential to transform a sorry state of society into a better societyEmpower the world with innovative green and clean products/processes/systems to achieve more!

 Analytical Chemistry in Crime Detection

A crime cannot occur without a transfer of material between the criminal and something at the scene of a crime, though the ways and means of criminals are becoming sophisticated. Forensic analytical chemistry (FAC) involves the application of chemistry and forensic toxicology, in a legal setting. A forensic chemist can assist in the identification of unknown materials found at a crime scene. It is essential to carry out qualitative analysis to find the composition of unknown substances and quantitative analysis to find how much of each component is present. These analyses use sophisticated analytical instruments for data collection and measurement, and chemical principles are applied to obtain detailed information about the crime incident. Further, fingerprints are reliable means of identifying individuals, when they touch an object, some of the sticky films of sweat and natural oils stick to the object they leave behind a fingerprint.

Various specimen samples such as fabrics, glass, metals, drugs, building materials, cosmetics, documents, paints, rubbers, fibers, hair, flammable liquids, inks, intoxicating compounds, saliva, seminal fluid, perspiration, urine, soil are examined and analyzed qualitatively/quantitatively to identify people. Fingerprints help us to identify patterns of ridges on the fingers unique to every individual. Latent prints are used to generate visible marks using carbon black (a base to obtain pattern), iodine (reacts with skin oils), and silver nitrate (reacts with NaCl left in perspiration. Photography (black and white/color/polaroid) is used to capture close-up shots and complete pictures of the scene of a crime and its surroundings. Clothing can be identified using fragments of clothing (natural and synthetic fabrics through the action of solvents (acetone), and the reaction of fiber to heat. Paper is analyzed for specific types of paper (color, thickness, type of surface) -printing/writing on paper and glass bits analyzed for color, density, refractive index, and chemical composition useful in ascertaining its source. Paints are analyzed for color, texture, and elements (Pb, Ti, Cr) present to establish their source, and ultraviolet (UV) or infrared (IR) light absorption help in the identification. Infrared and ultraviolet spectroscopies are useful in distinguishing pigments and dyes, and identification of rubbers, plastics, and organic compounds. X-ray fluorescence and X-ray absorption fine structure (XAFS) spectroscopy help analyze the samples from bullet holes, hair, glass fragments, clothing, building materials, paints, inks, and firearms residues. X-ray diffraction (XRD) and laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) can be used in the identification of explosive residues, alloys, and soils. Electrophoresis analysis is useful in the analysis of wet or dry blood samples to determine factors that make them unique (individualization). Radioimmunoassay is also used for the chemical identification of suspected samples.


To reduce the number of accident cases on the roads, traffic police carry out a breathalyzer test on the roadside that is based on the application of oxidation reaction. Individuals breathe into a tube that passes to a glass ampoule containing potassium dichromate and silver nitrate in sulphuric acid and water. Alcohol dissolves dichromate solution and is oxidized into acetic acid, leaving behind green color chromium sulfate. The green color is a qualitative identification of alcohol. Further quantitative studies can be done using spectral signatures of compounds obtained from infrared spectroscopy in the laboratory. Drug testing in athletes is carried out using the methods of urinalysis, enzyme multiplied immunoassay technique (EMIT), and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) techniques.


Major advances in scientific instrumentation, logical conclusions based on data analysis, non-compliance with specific laws, and the quantum of punishment/compensation depending on the degree of crime help minimize such incidents in the future. It can act as a deterrent for others not to do the same illegal activity. The joint application of chemistry and law by a team can provide solutions to some legal problems for the benefit of society. An interdisciplinary approach involving adequate planning, developing proper protocols, laboratory investigations, access to special equipment or a suitable method, the availability of an appropriate expert, collecting and recording data, data analysis, interpretation of results, compliance with the law, deciding the severity of punishment -all are essential in the court proceedings. Learning to assess the situation critically, developing special interests/skills, and a keen sense of observation helps in unfolding the attitude of people involved in unlawful activities. The qualitative and quantitative analysis has to be accurate, reproducible, and less expensive. Further, the law must evolve more in the future, has to be practical with the core elements and the adequate degree of punishment required to produce the desired effect must be well-defined. The growth and development of the literature on chemistry subject and specific aspects of the law subject can be particularly valuable. Future developments in chemistry and law could lead to the identification of criminals from their fingerprints or more specific information in a given context and reduce real-life violence. Chemical science application and law enforcement are important to us all and shaping our future by solving the ‘no timely justice’ problem and protecting the special people working for the common good. Free legal service must be made available to senior citizens of the country and genuine public interest litigation on behalf of the oppressed class should be handled on a priority basis. The keys to success can be summed up in 3Cs; choose to be a better version of oneself, change with changing times, and connect as a support system. Passion pushes your professional potential toward professional culture. An incredible thirst for knowledge makes things better. It is essential to embrace a new fast-track justice delivery system with a structured judicial protocol to help people obtain justice without delay and ensure safety, sustainability, and a pleasant living experience. Work towards ideals of social justice and harmony happens through perception shifts through non-stop continuous learning machines. Foundation is the incredible thirst for knowledge. There is no replacement for experience and a competitive edge. Sharpen your competitive edge. Get motivated and stay motivated. Set examples of good enough results to create an orderly society devoid of evil and injustice.


1.      Law Websites:;;;; LegallyIndia; Bar and Bench; PathLegal;; IndianKanoon; Law Funda

2.      Chemistry Websites: Acs.Org; Rsc.Org; Ptable.Com; ChemguideCo.Uk; Chemicalelements.Com; Chemwiki.Ucdavis.EduPubs.Acs.Org; Chemicool.Com; Iupac.Org; Masterorganicchemistry.Com









About the Author:

B.H.S. Thimmappa is a writer from Udupi, India

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