• Zack Kowalske

The Forensic Dark Side and a Rebellion for Improvement

Over the course of my law enforcement career, I have often heard the phrase “oh he went over to the dark side”. This was typically a comment made in reference to a former colleague who had left the employment of the government to work as an expert witness for defense attorneys. It seems that within public safety this is a point of contention for many, and mostly is vocalized about officers who are DUI experts. There is a notion within public safety, that as soon as you cross that threshold and testify on behalf of the defense, you are now a hired gun, willing to skew fact for fortune. The us versus them mentality is an unfortunate but ever present behavior in the criminal forum. While the purpose behind the adversarial montra of our nation’s criminal justice system serves a very key point, all too often it would seem that both sides of the forum forget the purpose behind the other; to ensure that the best and truest case is presented.

Personally, I never saw the harm in being an expert witness for either side as a police officer or investigator; the facts are the facts. This is one reason that crime scene investigations and the forensic science disciplines has drawn me over my career. One afternoon, while at the office, I received a call from an associate of an FBI colleague. He introduced himself and stated that he was in need of a shooting reconstruction expert for a private case in another state. He had obtained my info from our mutual friend and asked if I worked private cases. I told him that I could and would work the case. After the call ended, I immediately realized that I had to start a private practice and knew absolutely nothing about business. That one call, made me realize the opportunity that I had; to take everything I had been attempting to build in a government unit, but been frustrated by budget constraints and the desire for more case work, and direct that same passion into a private practice that could serve all sides. While it took some time to learn the business side of the practice, I learned quick as my appetite grew; a few years later cases keep coming so it’s working.

While I have learned lots of business principals along the way, it is my case work when retained by “the other side” that I have enjoyed. Defense work has truly made me a better investigator and crime scene analyst. It opened my eyes to the sub-par quality of investigations on major incidents and further that it, the quality of the work, is accepted. This should never be acceptable, but too often within major metropolitan agencies we see the sacrifice of quality over the quantity of cases. Side bar on this topic if you are writing a crime scene investigation report of a homicide investigation there is no reason it should only be one paragraph. But more often than not, those are the quality of reports I read in private cases. That is not to say that I don’t equally view truly methodical investigations, which give me ideas for alternative methods or allow me to just appreciate a good case done correctly.

As forensic practitioners we should strive to be better and not simply meet the standard. It is the drive for further education and innovation that fosters advancements in the sciences and intern break throughs in our discipline. That being said, push yourself to be better, seek out advancing training and further education. Network with excellent investigator and learn from those who have been there and done that but correctly. Strive for perfection, because that is what every case deserves. And lastly, don’t accept the us versus them, guilt or innocence is not one sided.

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