Every so often, engineering and manufacturing plays a role in our criminal justice system; from the early days of forensics and the asset that chemical manufacturers provided, to our modern era when 3D printing can actually serve a practical purpose in the courtroom, as shown in a recent murder trial.

3D Printing Enters The Courtroom
In trying to determine whether a defendant is guilty or innocent, it sometimes helps when the jury can see how a crime may have been physically carried out by in-court reenactments.  However, handing the accused a potentially dangerous object in a court of law can amount to a number of safety concerns.

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There’s also the problem of using stand-ins and substitutes for weapons when that evidence isn’t easily available. That is where 3D printing can really deliver.


Keeping Courts Safe And Jurors Informed?
When Lee Dent went on trial for the murder of Alex Peguero Sosa, the prosecution wanted to give the jury a strong sense of how the murder weapon, a broken bottle was handled by the accused. However, handing a murder trial defendant a potentially dangerous object in the middle of a murder trial raises a number of concerns.

Using a 3D printed plastic replica in place of a weapon not only mitigates safety issues in a courtroom, it gives the jury a clear, real world understanding of the evidence. As Dent was later found guilty of murder, perhaps this technology played a role in justice being done.

Uncovering The Facts
This recent murder case is not the first time additive manufacturing has been explored by the criminal justice system. Forensic professionals have relied on physical models of crime scenes and other forms evidence for much of the last century, but 3D printing has taken this approach to a whole new level.

Footprints, facial reproductions, fingerprints, bones, and miniature reproductions of structures, accidents, and crime scenes can be rendered with superior accuracy and scaled up or down to help investigators determine the facts and undercover missing pieces.


A Future Standard For The Legal System?
While 3D printed replicas are not yet a standard for law enforcement or in criminal justice systems, the technology is becoming more accepted and utilized. Some companies have even started specializing in 3D printing especially for criminal investigations and trials.

The 3D printed bottle in the Dent trial may be the earliest of many more evidence replicas to enter the courtroom.

What are your thoughts on using additive manufacturing by law enforcement and those in the legal system?

Do you think this technology will ensure justice and closer understanding of the facts?

Is there any way it could be misused?

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