• University of Leicester

Forensic Science and Criminal Justice

Learn how police use science in criminal investigations and its role in the criminal justice system with this free online course.

48,271 enrolled on this course

  • Duration

    6 weeks
  • Weekly study

    2 hours

Over the past two decades, the criminal justice system has been dramatically affected by technological advances in scientific contributions to the law. The most influential developments have been in the area of DNA profiling, and its forensic applications for both identifying perpetrators and exonerating the innocent.

Although there have been some extraordinary victories for the forensic science community in recent years, there has also been scepticism about the infallibility of some forensic science practices, and the interpretation of physical evidence in the courtroom.

This free online course begins by introducing you to the historical context of forensic science and how science is used by the police during criminal investigations.

We will then explore some of the implications that these forensic techniques have on the criminal justice system, such as controversies surrounding biometric databases, the portrayal of forensic science in popular media (“the CSI effect”), and how forensic science is used in the courtroom.

Finally, we will consider what the future of forensic science looks like and where the discipline may be heading in the years to come.

Previous learner, Lynda, said: “I have always been very interested in criminology subjects so I found it fascinating and informative. I just loved the course!” Find out more in her learner story.

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds The University of Leicester has many years of experience of both forensic science research and teaching in a whole range of different disciplines, from disciplines you might possibly associate with universities, such as the department of genetics, where in 1984, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys invented DNA fingerprinting, but other departments as well, like chemistry, forensic pathology, physics, engineering. So there’s a lot of different departments, both those natural science ones and social science ones like criminology and psychology, where we have experts who work day in, day out in forensic science. So across the whole range of the criminal justice system, the University of Leicester has experience and skills in those disciplines.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds I really enjoy teaching forensic science and criminal justice related topics for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I think it’s a subject that naturally inspires students, and they’re always quite engaged with it. Because I guess everybody loves a good mystery. But the second reason is that students tend to come into these courses with lots of preconceived notions about what forensic science is really like, because maybe they’ve seen it on TV or in the movies. So I really quite enjoy dispelling some of those myths and teaching people how it actually works. And also, raising their awareness of some of the issues that surround the use of science in the criminal justice system.

Skip to 1 minute and 25 seconds So I think those are the two reasons why I love teaching this subject. This MOOC will give you a really good insight into not only what forensic science is, and the history of it, but then how it’s used day to day by the police and the criminal justice system to actually prosecute offenders and detect crimes. So it’s more than just what the techniques are. It’s more than just the CSI aspect of it. It’s about how this is used in real life, and how you can use this to solve crime. One of the things you’ll have a chance to do is debate contemporary issues in forensic science.

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 seconds For instance, there’s no question that DNA fingerprinting is a great asset to the police when they’re investigating crime. However, national DNA databases do also raise lots of privacy and ethics issues, which you’ll have a chance to debate during the course. In addition, we’ll consider how forensic science is portrayed in the popular media. So if you’ve ever wondered whether shows like CSI are realistic, you’ll have a chance to explore that in more detail and come to your own conclusions about whether they’re purely for entertainment, or whether they are based in reality. And finally, the course will finish off by looking at the future of forensic science, and where the discipline is going in the near future.

Skip to 2 minutes and 37 seconds I think the discipline of forensic science is a really great career. Because at the end of the day, you are helping to lock the bad guys up. There’s a real positive outcome from this, in that you can be satisfied that the results of your work, whether it’s research, it’s actually undertaking casework for the police, or it’s teaching the next generation, is all helping towards making our community safer. And that’s a real positive career to have.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

Who is the course for?

No prior qualifications in forensic science or other disciplines are required. Students should have an interest in how science assists police investigations, and how forensic science impacts on the criminal justice system.

Who will you learn with?

Both are Senior Lecturers at the University of Leicester and have an extensive research background and years of experience in Forensic Science and Criminology.

Who developed the course?

University of Leicester

The University of Leicester is a leading research led university with a strong tradition of excellence in teaching. It is consistently ranked amongst the top 20 universities in the United Kingdom.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control

Want to know more about learning on FutureLearn? Using FutureLearn

Do you know someone who'd love this course? Tell them about it...

You can use the hashtag #FLForensicsLeic to talk about this course on social media.