The Role of Forensic Nurses in Criminal Investigations

Forensic nursing is a specialized field that plays a crucial role in bridging the gap between healthcare and the criminal justice system. Forensic nurses are registered nurses who have received specific training to collect evidence, provide expert testimony, and offer medical care to victims of crime. Their expertise is critical in criminal investigations, where the collection and preservation of evidence can determine the outcome of a case.

Understanding the Role of Forensic Nurses

At the core of forensic nursing is the application of medical knowledge to legal matters. Forensic nurses are often among the first professionals to interact with victims of crimes, such as assault or abuse. They are trained to observe and document injuries and to collect evidence that could be used in court. This may include taking photographs of injuries, collecting clothing, and performing forensic examinations.

Forensic nurses must possess a keen eye for detail and an understanding of the legal implications of their actions. They are trained to maintain a chain of custody for the evidence they collect and to ensure that their methods are reproducible and can withstand legal scrutiny.

Scope of Work

The scope of work for forensic nurses is vast. They may work in various settings, including hospitals, community health centers, coroner’s offices, and the legal system. Some of the specific roles they may take on include:

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE): These nurses are specially trained to provide comprehensive care to sexual assault victims, including evidence collection and emotional support.
  • Legal Nurse Consultant: These nurses assist attorneys in interpreting medical records and understanding healthcare issues to support legal cases.
  • Death Investigator: Nurses in this role may work with or for coroners and medical examiners to determine the cause of death in sudden or unexplained deaths.
  • Nurse Coroner or Medical Examiner: In some jurisdictions, forensic nurses are qualified to serve as coroners or medical examiners.
  • Forensic Psychiatric Nurse: These nurses work with patients within the psychiatric system who have legal issues or have been victims or perpetrators of crimes.

Contributions to Solving Crimes

Forensic nurses contribute to solving crimes in several ways:

  1. Evidence Collection: The meticulous collection of evidence is vital to solving crimes. Forensic nurses collect physical evidence such as hair, fibers, and bodily fluids that can link a suspect to a crime.
  2. Injury Identification and Documentation: They assess and document victims’ injuries, which can provide information about the nature and timing of the crime.
  3. Expert Testimony: Forensic nurses may be called upon to provide expert testimony in court. Their knowledge can help juries understand the medical aspects of a case.
  4. Victim Advocacy: They often serve as advocates for victims, helping to navigate the complex legal system and ensuring that victims receive the care and support they need.
  5. Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Forensic nurses work closely with law enforcement, legal professionals, and other forensic specialists, providing a healthcare perspective that is essential to a comprehensive investigation.

Challenges and Considerations

Forensic nursing requires an ability to work under pressure and handle sensitive situations. Nurses in this field must balance their empathetic care for victims with the objective collection of evidence. They also face the challenge of staying current with advances in forensic science and changes in the legal landscape.

Another consideration is the emotional toll this work can take. Forensic nurses witness the aftermath of violence and trauma, which can be emotionally demanding. Institutions employing forensic nurses often provide support systems to help them cope with these challenges.


The contribution of forensic nurses to criminal investigations is invaluable. Their specialized knowledge and skills enable them to provide crucial medical evidence and testimony that can make or break a case. Beyond their technical contributions, they offer compassion and advocacy for victims, often during the most traumatic moments of their lives. As the field continues to grow, the role of forensic nurses will likely expand, further cementing their place as a vital component of the criminal justice system.

The work of forensic nurses is an intersection of compassion and scientific rigor. They are the unsung heroes who ensure that the stories of victims are told accurately, and that justice has a chance to prevail. Their role is as complex as it is crucial, requiring a blend of clinical expertise, forensic science, and an unwavering commitment to advocating for the truth.