Interview: A Focus on The Future; 3D Forensics

Interviewed by Yahaya Sumara Sulley

Compiled and Prepared by Yahaya Sumara Sulley & Swaad Abdullah

(The Confident Scientist Network, Nyankpala)

On this episode of “The Convo,” forensic scientist Mr. Muntawakilu Danjema Amadu speaks with Mr. Yahaya Sumara Sulley, chairman of the Confident Scientist. Mr. Amadu holds two degrees in forensic sciences, an MSc and a BSc, from the National Forensic Science University (NFSU) in India and the University of Cape Coast, respectively. After completing his undergraduate degree in multidisciplinary forensics, he started his master’s program with major specializations in fingerprint and questioned document examination. His area of concentration aligns with crime scene investigation and reconstruction, a field in which he wishes to work, and he has a deep interest and competence in photography. The Confident Scientist network discussed 3D forensics, a developing field in forensic science, with Mr. Amadu.

Solving crimes and other contemporary social and environmental issues requires some scientific and legal work. As 3D forensics emerges as a very crucial technology in the forensic toolkit, it is as well running into questions about validation and reliability. 3D forensics is not considered an unpopular opinion however if these new technologies are going to be used widely, they need to be well understood by the general public and made more affordable, accessible, and practical. The mantra of crime-solving continues but there is no doubt that 3D documentation would make it easier for forensics and the criminal justice system to assist one another.

Yahaya Sumara Sulley: Eyewitness testimony could be wrong or right, likewise court or jury decision: Could you share any perspectives on eyewitness testimony and court decisions looking at the subject of discussion?

Muntawakilu Danjema Amadu: As we all know, eyewitness testimony is a form of direct evidence where one testifies based on what they have seen, heard, and so on. However, it is prone to misrepresentation and bias as it is mostly reliant on memory and recollection. So, the question sometimes is, “How true is our recollection?” or “Does the witness no longer want to get involved, most likely due to threats or otherwise?” Relying on eyewitness testimony can be dangerous at times because people can be easily persuaded to give false testimony. I think if we can’t identify the guilty in a case, the innocent shouldn’t be used for pacification because the fundamentals of the criminal justice system must be protected.

Yahaya Sumara Sulley: Humans visualize things in different dimensions. To the uninitiated, how do you break down 3D forensics?

Muntawakilu Danjema Amadu: 3D forensics is very broad in terms of its scope, as it cuts across many areas within forensics. But to make a long story short and to avoid talking for days, it’s applying 3D technology to find answers to crimes. This technology helps in creating accurate visuals with the aid of software and devices to aid investigations. This technology is advantageous because it can paint a near-perfect picture of the event for better explanation in court.

Yahaya Sumara Sulley: In simple terms, we are trying to tell with technology and clear visuals how fast an incident occurred, the magnitude of a hit, the number of poisonous substances that have been deposited into a beverage for someone to drink, and so on.

Muntawakilu Danjema Amadu: Exactly. That adds clarity to the aspect of 3D reconstruction in terms of how an event occurred. So 3D forensics aids in demonstrating every detail while making a point in court or explaining how an event occurred. Also, it could aid in reenactment processes where a whole new scene of an event is designed based on details of how the event occurred with the use of illustrative models and computer animations. 3D forensics follows the basic principles of forensic investigations and documentation, just like sketches and others.

Yahaya Sumara Sulley: We have moved from the paper and pencil era to the analogue era, and we appear to be moving beyond the digital era and into the era of AI. Is this technology more AI-embedded?

Muntawakilu Danjema Amadu: Yes, of course, we have transitioned into a more advanced technological era. Even though 3D forensics makes the work of investigators and legal practitioners easier, it is not entirely AI-embedded. 3D technology has existed for decades; it is just unfortunate that we are now realizing its importance in forensic casework. Because it does not make predictions but rather provides an accurate representation of the event within a digital space, 3D forensics appears to be in the digital realm.

Yahaya Sumara Sulley: I think 3D technology is as greedy as the forensic discipline. Since it is IT-driven, how much easier or more complex will it be for someone with a different background?

Muntawakilu Danjema Amadu: I don’t think your background matters much. It is more about how dedicated one is, but it requires familiarity with basic computing. Every dedicated person can develop the skill; however, I believe it is much easier for engineers, or people with an engineering background because they know the fundamentals of engineering and how to design models. This allows them to transfer those skills easily. Since it is an applicable technology, the knowledge one has in a field is very important in the use of 3D technology. For example, without the knowledge of ballistics, it would be a bit challenging for an individual who is tasked with determining a bullet trajectory even with the technology at hand. One thing for sure is that it cuts across many fields and disciplines.

Yahaya Sumara Sulley: It looks like, at some point in time, one will need better resources and data to be efficient as a 3D forensic scientist.

Muntawakilu Danjema Amadu: Exactly! You need to have the training and then the resources; without the resources, you cannot do anything.

Yahaya Sumara Sulley: Just like a well-resourced forensic anthropology facility would prefer to use 3D technology to work on cases without carrying remains to the laboratory but rather sending well-documented 3D images via virtual platforms for analysis if there are some restrictions on the materials.

Muntawakilu Danjema Amadu: Yes!

Yahaya Sumara Sulley: To the best of your knowledge, is 3D forensics evidence accepted in courts across the world?

Muntawakilu Danjema Amadu: In some advanced countries, yes. One thing I would like to say is that people already expect so much from forensics because of crime dramas and documentaries, so it is an add-on and not a subtraction. What has been presented in 3D as forensic evidence shouldn’t be rejected, provided it is not manipulated. I think that acceptance in court would also be great if the judicial system were educated about the technology. I have not heard of its admissibility in Ghana yet, but I think it is not a matter of acceptability but rather availability. Let’s say, in the case of postmortem fingerprinting, instead of the expert witness using a 2D image, he could use 3D data which can provide more clarity, this is not expected to cause any issues if the evidence is not altered.

Yahaya Sumara Sulley: Do you have an idea what some of the limitations and ethical issues concerning the application of this technology are? What could some of these ethical issues or limitations be?

Muntawakilu Danjema Amadu: One thing that we should all take note of is that, with every great system, comes some challenges and limitations. Systems are made to be robust, but people always have ways of turning things around the way they want them. It would be very unjust for someone to manipulate 3D forensic evidence simply because, at that stage, it appears to be very strong evidence that could easily put someone’s life in jeopardy. Since the system allows for addition and subtraction, there is always the possibility of an omission or inclusion. All forensic science codes of ethics apply to 3D forensics, and therefore experts are encouraged to follow the protocols, avoid infringing on copyrights, and be very cautious and diligent when handling forensic casework.

Yahaya Sumara Sulley: Let’s talk about cases. I have heard of a true account of a medical failure where some quantity of glue was injected into the skull of the patient and then Based on the degree of error in the medical field, the doctor was supposed to be held responsible for the death of that person. With 3D forensics, they were able to calculate the quantity of glue that was injected into the skull and the amount that was capable of causing strokes in the victim. Can you tell me about an interesting case in which 3D forensics played a significant role in solving it?

I have not been personally involved in a case yet, but for sure, there have been a lot of cases out there in which 3D technology played a crucial role, unfortunately, all the ones that I know were narrated to me. One case that I have been exposed to in class without full detail because of confidentiality was about how 3D forensics was used to give more details in a tricycle accident that caused the death of a victim. Without a doubt, I would like to say that there are many cases in Ghana that I believe would have been better handled or managed if we had proper 3D documentation. This brings me to when we rely too much on sketches and typical crime scene documentation practices in this modern day of technology. Assuming the case would take a long time to solve, reviewing these crime scenes tends to give very different feedback, which requires a lot of time and resources to handle once it is reopened.

I think in every crime scene situation, not just in Ghana, crime scene documentation is done under pressure and people are prone to leaving behind details. Ghana is not there yet, but 3D documentation combined with other aided technologies could capture crime scenes from the inside out and provide all of the details as a supplemental report.

So if we draw our minds back to the bullion van robbery that led to the deaths of some innocent victims, the way the whole bullet trajectory was explained on TV seems to undermine the confidence of viewers. The use of 3D technology would have added more clarity to the representation of the series of events that took place, like trying to show the bullet entry and exit points. If we had this 3D data and other stuff, I think a lot of cases like this would have been much better processed. We should invest in the 3D forensic industry considering the benefits we would get. We can start by utilizing these basic techniques, like photogrammetry, which requires just a smartphone or a digital camera that can capture good images or videos. There are photogrammetry software packages available for less than $500 which could significantly help us with our forensic investigations.

Yahaya Sumara Sulley: Do you have any final words for our readers?

I don’t think everyone can have enough resources to meet the demands of 3D forensics currently, but we have to try to do as much as we can if nations want to prioritize solving contemporary social and environmental issues. I think the forensic science communities in countries that are not benefiting directly from 3D forensics should strengthen the call for the government to see its relevance. 3D forensics can be used to accurately document, analyze and present evidence in a 3-dimensional virtual space. The technology enables the jury and court to understand a case better and make well-informed judgments through the process of scene reenactment and live reconstruction demonstrations by investigators. An interesting part of 3D forensics is its tendency and ability to satisfy the curiosity and overwhelming demands of the jury and public at large on Forensic Science (CSI effect). Forensic experts can now forgo the hustle of explaining a case using conventional abstract methods and delivering a concrete explanation with 3D forensics. 3D forensics is the present and future!

Source: The Confident Scientist (The Convo)

15th November 2022