Could You Stomach a Degree in Forensics?
The word forensics is a lot like the character Mufasa from The Lion King: just hearing the word can send shivers down the spine. If you've ever watched Criminal Minds, you've caught a glimpse of how deep the rabbit hole goes in real life. Not every degree in the forensic arts & sciences carries the same dark connotation, yet they're all meaningful and imperative careers within the US judicial system.
Summary: Much to the dismay of jurors hoping to at least get stuck on a murder trial, forensic accountants testify in courts their analysis of a financial situation pertaining to corporate crimes, insurance claims, and are well-suited to throwing the book at bookkeepers (sorry, we couldn't resist!) Forensic accounting comes to the rescue of scorned ex-spouses and parents in alimony and child support hearings.
High Profile Case Highlight: You've surely heard of the Enron scandal or even the documentary that came of this fascinating case called Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room. The findings of forensic accountants was a crucial body of evidence to the 2001 prosecution against Enron Corporation, a massive energy company that got caught up in an even more massive scandal. The 16 felonious guilty parties, operating from atop a giant among corporations, faced over a hundred counts of fraud, money laundering, insider trading and conspiracy among other charges.
Starting Salary: $50,000 - $75,000
Summary: Connecting suspects to incriminating digital data lies within the skill of a computer forensics specialist. Yes, the US government hires computer hackers for the good of the people! The evidence provided by computer forensics – across hard drives, encryption systems, cell phones and more - can be enough to ruin the defense in a criminal trial.
High Profile Case Highlight: Serial killer Dennis Rader (a.k.a. The BTK Killer) had been communicating with Kansas police and the local press by sending packages containing floppy disks, letters, and trinkets. Unbeknownst to Rader, computer forensics teams can retrieve metadata from “deleted” files on floppy disks and a file named 'Christ Lutheran Church' gave up his identity. Rader was finally delivered into custody after eluding law enforcement for nearly 30 years. See? Computer geeks can be heroes!
Salary: $45,000 - $80,000
Summary: A specialist that applies the laws of psychology to civil and criminal courtrooms is a Forensic Psychologist. They are able to evaluate emotional and mental states and report their findings on witness stands for cases that range from murder to child custody battles. Forensic psychology is pertinent to analyzing a dangerous criminal's competency, whose sentencing could bear life or death consequences!
High Profile Case Highlight: Ford v Wainwright – Alvin Ford successfully sued the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, Louie Wainwright, who had signed a death warrant for Ford. The death row inmate, Ford, displayed delusional and paranoid behavior typical of schizophrenia: he would introduce himself as the Pope and believed there were murderous conspiracies involving the KKK taking place inside the prison. After found to be incompetent, Ford v Wainwright became a landmark ruling that gave prisoners the right to petition for a psychological evaluation and prohibited the execution of those found to be incompetent.
Salary: $55,000 - $63,000, although criminal profilers with PhDs can earn an extra zero.
Summary: Like other specialists in forensics, forensic nurses collect information and present their data in court... which all sounds very boring until you realize that without forensic nurses, victims of rape and domestic abuse would be underserved. The scope of forensic nursing isn't limited to violent crimes, of course, as forensic nurses can contribute much to public safety through faulty death insurance claims. The International Association of Forensic Nurses goes as far as to say that faulty death determinations can significantly impact planning for public health policies. (1)
High Profile Case Highlight: In all cases where physical violence is expressed, forensic nurses or forensic pathologists are involved. In 2004, President Bush signed The Justice for All Act, considered to be the most important legislative action to be taken against rapists. The Act provides millions of dollars in grants for forensic nurses to test a backlog of thousands of DNA samples, hoping to solve thousands of open rape cases. (2)
Salary: $50,000 - $72,000