medical jurisprudence or forensic medicine, the application of medical science to legal problems. It is typically involved in cases concerning blood relationship, mental illness, injury, or death resulting from violence. Autopsy (see post-mortem examination) is often used to determine the cause of death, particularly in cases where foul play is suspected. Post-mortem examination can determine not only the immediate agent of death (e.g. gunshot wound, poison), but may also yield important contextual information, such as how long the person has been dead, which can help trace the killing. Forensic medicine has also become increasingly important in cases involving rape. Modern techniques use such specimens as semen, blood, and hair samples of the criminal found in the victim's bodies, which can be compared to the defendant's genetic makeup through a technique known as DNA fingerprinting; this technique may also be used to identify the body of a victim. The establishment of serious mental illness by a licensed psychologist can be used in demonstrating incompetency to stand trial, a technique which may be used in the insanity defense (see insanity), albeit infrequently.
See C. C. Malik, A Short Textbook of Medical Jurisprudence (1985); C. Wecht, ed., Legal Medicine (1987).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.