3D Printing Makes Its Way in the Courtroom

Does anyone question DNA anymore? It will be the same for 3D printing!”

It is no secret that 3D printing is becoming an increasingly popular technology in several different industries.

More and more 3D printers are starting to populate medical labs or architecture firms, providing alternative solutions to researchers, doctors, manufacturers and makers.

The latest application of the technology, however, comes from an area where a 3D printer is least expected to be found: criminal justice.

The first criminal cases involving 3D printing come from the UK and some of them sound like stories coming from a dark novel.


The Warwick slaughter

Elusive humerus bone: The cracking on the surface was caused by the intensity of a fire. Image Credit: TCT Magazine

In the first case solved with 3D printed evidence, the murder victim had been dismembered, squeezed into two suitcases, walked through town at 9:39 pm as per some eerie CCTV footage, and dumped in a nearby canal. A group of workers found the suitcases, and judging their weight to be suspicious, contacted the police, who sent them to be CT scanned at the University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire. Inside was the entire skeletal remains of a man (save for a piece of the left homers); a saw; a kitchen knife; a hammer; and a chisel.

It’s said that dismemberment cases are not so hard to solve if you know where it happened, and thanks to one particular fire department call out, that proved true. The perpetrators, in an attempt to destroy evidence, had collected the remains, including soft tissue and that elusive humerus bone, and with the help of some plastic sheets and petrol, started an oil drum fire in their back garden.

After DNA samples from the victim’s body revealed his identity, the police were alerted to a fire where his former housemate and partner lived, put two and two together, and conducted arrests. Eleven bone elements were micro-CT scanned by the Warwick Manufacturing Group, including the numerous bone which was 3D printed and presented in court.

This fragment was identified using a Nikon XT H 225/ 320LC micro-CT scanner, which highlighted the area of a clump of charcoal which had suffered the least heat damage – bone being notoriously resistant to fire. It was visualized in 50μm and printed in 20μm on an Objet 260 Connex.

The 3D prints not only helped the judge to determine the sentencing of the offenders – 19 and 2 ½ years respectively – but also helped in questioning. Upon seeing the 3D printed models, one of the accused cracked admitted their guilt, and proceedings went straight to sentencing.


The power of details

The power on 3D printing applied to criminal justice, like in the case just mentioned, lies in the possibility to transform the information provided by MRI into an evidence that any juror can understand. The high resolution of the prints allows in fact to highlight important details, like cracking or microscopic injuries, that can help the jury to get a much better independent assessment of how much injury has occurred.


3D printing evidence

Although 3D printing cannot be yet considered an established and standard way to provide evidence for criminal cases, a number of businesses are sprouting both in the UK and US and it is not unreasonable to think that the technology will eventually become a staple in every courtroom around the globe.



Read more at tctmagazine.com

Categories: Biomedical, Innovation