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Forensic profiling in its context  Title:
 The different forms of forensic profiling in the judicial process


Profiling and the reconstruction process

The reconstruction process is central. It starts from the traces (effects) and leads to the management of alternative hypotheses (possible causes) that may explain the existence of the traces. This process can obviously be envisaged through the optic of profiling.

Each criminal activity is unique, thus the reconstruction process does not aim to extract general principles, but rather to provide an explanation of what occurred in a specific situation with specific persons (what, who, when, where, why and how). However, this activity occurs within a general context (for instance demographic, economical, sociological, criminal, physical, etc.) that also have to be taken into account. For instance, knowing that similar events already occurred in the same region during the same period may be of importance in each phase of the judicial process.  

Figure : A description of the whole reconstruction process, from the activity to the management of hypotheses

Traces may be visible, latent or even hidden behind irrelevant data. They are frequently fragmentary. For instance, important files on a hard disk may be discretely hidden within directories generally dedicated to other purposes, logically deleted, or even partially replaced by new data. Specific search strategies must be devised for detecting, recognising and collecting relevant traces.  

From the traces collected, possible sources, activities and the offence must be described. A modern approach for framing the reconstruction process considers together the offender, the victim, the immediate environment and existing protections . This so called situational approach emphasises that conditions for a crime to occur are very specific and strongly depend on the motivation and abilities of the offender (perceived risks, expected gain, effort, knowledge or resources), as well as the characteristics of the victims within a specific environment that make her vulnerable and her values attractive (Value, Inertia, Visibility, Accessibility - VIVA). Thus, forensic profiling will not only concentrate on the offender, but also on victims and environment, in order to detect precursors that may lead to repeated victimisation. In fact, this chemistry or opportunities can be helpfully studied in order to look for concentration of crimes in time and place, as well as for explaining the existence and developments of these clusters .  


The three chapters of the judicial process

There are many actors of the criminal justice system who search for answers to the what, who, when, where, why, and how questions, depending of their functions, roles, competence and/or knowledge. Each has a different aim that call for specific reasoning forms. The judges and jury will take responsibilities in the definitive decision at the end of the process. The preparation of the file is supported or carried out by the defendant and his lawyer, the police, forensic scientists or a magistrate. The whole reconstruction process may beneficiate from specific knowledge of experts. Witnesses and victims are themselves interviewed to provide insight on offenders and their activities. Finally, criminologists are interested in the mechanisms of the offence in order to test their hypothesis or develop theories of crime. These contributions may considerably differ from one system to another one. In particular, the role of the forensic scientists may range from providing expertise in very restricted situations to directly participating and coordinating part of the investigative process, where the study of traces and a scientific attitude are expected. Profiling then follows different aims that have to be distinguished.  

Brodeur  from a general perspective, and Kind  with a forensic viewpoint, have both argued for the existence of different types of investigations or chapters that have their own logic in the course of the judicial process: the problem to find (identification and localisation of suspects), the problem to prove (how to structure evidence) and the problem of the trial itself where evidence is presented.



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