Credit points


Campus offering

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Unit rationale, description and aim

There are a broad range of circumstances where scientific evidence is tendered in legal cases, particularly criminal matters. This evidence is intended to illuminate understanding in forensic contexts. Having knowledge and understanding of when such evidence can be usefully used, and the ability to evaluate such evidence is important in many criminal matters.

This unit Introduction to Forensic Science and the Law introduces students to the points of connection between science and criminal justice. The unit starts by introducing students to the broad range of circumstances where scientific evidence has been tendered in legal cases, particularly criminal matters. They will then survey the list of topics (detailed below) and develop the skills needed to evaluate scientific evidence in these cases. Students will apply these skills by evaluating significant criminal matters at trial.

The aim of this unit is to equip students with the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to make appropriate and effective use of scientific evidence in legal cases.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe the circumstances in which scientific knowledge can illuminate understanding in forensic contexts (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9, GA10)

LO2 - Critically evaluate scientific evidence that has been tendered in reported criminal cases (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA9)

LO3 - Critically evaluate scientific evidence tendered in a hypothetical criminal case (GA3, GA4, GA5, GA9)

Graduate attributes

GA3 - Apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - Think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - Demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - Locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - Demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 

GA10 - Utilise information and communication and other relevant technologies effectively


Topics will include:

  • Historical development of forensic science.
  • Introduction to the principles of expert (scientific) evidence (Daubert v Dow, and Australian equivalents).
  • Review of the range of forensic sciences: anthropology, entomology, biology, chemistry.
  • Investigations and investigative techniques.
  • Coronial inquiries into death
  • Bloodstain evidence and patterns
  • Fingerprinting and DNA.
  • Postmortem toxicology.
  • Arson and fire investigations.
  • Explosives
  • Firearms.
  • Tread impressions.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit comprises 150 hours of study in total. It will be taught over a 12 week semester, with one 2-hour lecture followed by a 1-hour tutorial each week or ACU Online 10 week asynchronous delivery mode. Other study components might include on-line webinars, podcasts, readings, discussion forums etc. The balance of the hours is comprised of self-directed study.

Our teaching strategy is to encourage students to actively engage with unit content and their peers; to provide a clear link between lecture content and tutorial practicum to develop skills that bridge the gap between theory and practice. Within an integrated learning framework, lectures will provide core content relating to the topics identified above and begin the process of exploration, which will be followed by detailed explanation and further investigation in tutorials. Through direct interaction between students and teachers, students are encouraged to engage in critical analysis of the foundational knowledge they acquire; to test that knowledge by applying it to factual situations; to produce solutions supported by legal authorities and arguments; and to reflect on their learning. Each component is intended to build on knowledge and skills and progressively scaffold student learning.

The online learning platforms used in this unit provide multiple preparatory and practice opportunities to guide in-class and out-of-class study. Technology assistance in the form of online learning resources, notices, assessment information (including online submission, marking and return of results/feedback), is student focused, affording greater accessibility and flexibility to the learning experience. 

ACU Online 

This unit uses an active learning approach to support students in the exploration of knowledge essential to the discipline. Students are provided with choice and variety in how they learn. Students are encouraged to contribute to asynchronous weekly discussions. Active learning opportunities provide students with opportunities to practice and apply their learning in situations similar to their future professions. Activities encourage students to bring their own examples to demonstrate understanding, application and engage constructively with their peers. Students receive regular and timely feedback on their learning, which includes information on their progress. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

This unit seeks to model the appropriate use of scientific evidence in criminal matters, critical analysis of its use, and the important standards and ethical obligations that are relevant to using such evidence. Accordingly, three assessments comprise an authentic scaffold aligned with the unit’s learning outcomes.

First, students demonstrate knowledge of key aspects of the roles and ethical and expert responsibilities of scientists in criminal cases through a quiz. Second, students will prepare a “brief to counsel” evaluating a hypothetical criminal case and considering whether scientific evidence would be useful and relevant. Finally, under examination conditions, students will be presented with a hypothetical case and invited to identify and describe the varieties of scientific evidence that might be useful in the case and explain why.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Online multiple-choice quiz: Requires students to demonstrate their ability to write a brief description of the roles and responsibilities of scientists in criminal cases.



GA4, GA5, GA9

Brief to legal counsel: students will be presented with a hypothetical case and invited to identify and describe the variables of scientific evidence that might be useful in the case, and explain why.


LO2, LO3

GA3, GA4, GA5, GA9

Exam, requiring critical evaluation of a hypothetical example of an expert report listed in a criminal case that involves the tender and reception of expert evidence, where that evidence is pivotal to the outcome


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9, GA10

Representative texts and references

Bertino A J & Bertino P, Forensic Science: Fundamentals and Investigations, 2015.

Bell S, Forensic Science: An Introduction to Scientific and Investigative Techniques, Fifth Edition, 2019. 

Wecht C & Rago J, eds., Forensic Science and Law: Investigative Applications in Criminal, Civil and Family Justice, 2005.

Kiely T, Forensic Evidence: Science and the Criminal Law, 2nd edition, 2005.

Roberts P, Expert Evidence and Scientific Proof in Criminal Trials, 2014.

Carson R et al, Applying Psychology to Criminal Justice, 2007.

Ruiter C & Kaser-Boyd N, Forensic Psychological Assessment in Practice Case Studies, 2015. 

Howitt D, Introduction to Forensic and Criminal Psychology, 6th edition, 2018.

Ferguson C, Turvey B & Petherick W, Forensic Criminology, 2009.

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