The geographical location of Costa Rica provides a bridge between criminal networks in South and North America. And while the forensic science department within the country has high quality standards and has made progress toward accreditation, there are continuous efforts needed to strengthening the criminal justice system. Now, a team of forensic experts from West Virginia University has partnered with the Costa Rican government to train and support the country’s scientists, crime scene investigators and medical examiners for the next two years.
The forensic team is led by two professors of forensic and investigative science at WVU, Tatiana Trejos and Luis Arroyo, who were both born and raised in Costa Rica.
“Having both grown up in Costa Rica, we have a particular interest in supporting its judicial system,” Trejos said. “We live in a small world. Before moving to the U.S., [Arroyo] provided technical support to the country’s Department of Forensic Science for forensic mass spectrometry applications, and I worked several years for the Judicial Investigation Department. We are very familiar with the operation, its professionalism and high-quality standards.”
Trejos told Forensic the team’s first step is meeting with Costa Rican personnel to assess their most urgent needs. From there, the WVU team will provide consulting on the accreditation process using the ISO17020 and ISO 17025 norms, as well as offer technical training.
The expert training will focus on crime scene investigation, such as the reconstruction of crime scenes using bloodstain pattern analysis and shooting distance estimations; forensic examination of evidence, including bullet marks, fingerprints, DNA, drug analysis and gunshot residues; legal medicine, such as pathology and forensic odontology; as well as modern statistical methods for the interpretation of evidence. Expert testimony in courtrooms and well as discipline-specific exercises for medical examiners will also be part of the training.
The project will continue for two years with the ultimate goal of establishing a solid basis for improved case investigation and advanced technical knowledge and expertise. Both the WVU team and the Costa Rican government also hope the project can serve as a model for better criminal justice practices across Central America.
“The harmonization of quality control and procedures used from the collection of evidence to its analysis and presentation in the court within the different departments in Costa Rica can be used as a model that can be adopted by other governments and law enforcement agencies in Central America,” Trejos said. “The standardization and accreditation would benefit interagency collaborations in the future to combat criminal networks in more integrated efforts.”
Prevalent crimes like drug trafficking, human trafficking and money laundering are prevalent in Costa Rica. They continue to affect both the local region, as well as the United States and other nearby countries.
“The strengthening of the judicial and technical-scientific framework in Costa Rica will benefit its society, as well as neighboring countries and the U.S., in more effectively combating drug trafficking and criminal networks,” Arroyo said. “We are very honored and hope this project can provide a valuable model for other law enforcement agencies in central America as well as expand WVU’s international prominence.”