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Forensic Mass Spectrometry: Scientific and Legal Precedents

NCJ Number
Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry Volume: 34 Issue: 7 Dated: 2023 Pages: 1210–1224
Date Published
June 2023
15 pages

This article presents research into scientific and legal precedents in the field of criminal justice resulting from advances in forensic mass spectrometry.


Mass spectrometry has made profound contributions to the criminal justice system by providing an instrumental method of analysis that delivers exquisite analytical figures of merit for a wide variety of samples and analytes. Applications include the characterization of trace metal impurities in hair and glass to the identification of drugs, explosives, polymers, and ignitable liquids. This review describes major historical developments and, where possible, relates the developed capabilities to casework and legal precedents. This review also provides insight into how historical applications have evolved into, and out of, modern consensus standards. Unlike many pattern-based techniques and physical-matching methods, mass spectrometry has strong scientific foundations and a long history of successful applications that have made it one of the most reliable and respected sources of scientific evidence in criminal and civil cases. That said, in several appellate decisions in which mass spectrometric evidence was challenged but admitted, decisions sometimes still went against the mass spectrometric data anyway, which goes to show that mass spectrometric evidence is always just one piece of the larger legal puzzle. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: June 1, 2023