A criminalist aids in the collection, preservation and interpretation of evidence found at a crime scene. Criminalists use physical evidence, such as footprints, blood stains, fingerprints, or clothing, to help reconstruct the crime scene. They are trained in the field of criminalistics, which employs the natural sciences to analyze and interpret forensic evidence. Specialty areas within criminalistics include trace evidence (such as hairs and fibers or paints and polymers), fire debris analysis, molecular biology, and drug chemistry.
A criminalist decides what evidence is important to a case, and what evidence is of little value. Once all the evidence is processed and a conclusion is made, criminalists are responsible for writing reports on their findings. A criminalist usually works 40 hours per week and is required to be on call. They also appear in court as expert witnesses to the evidence.
Criminalists work at crime scenes and in laboratories. They are often required to wear protective clothing when handling evidence, and there is a great possibility that they will be exposed to odors, fumes, diseases, and chemicals. Typically, criminalists work for police forensic laboratories, sheriff's offices, private firms, universities or colleges, and state and federal agencies. Additionally, wildlife forensics is a new career specialty for criminalists.
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