Often a misunderstood, forensic art is a unique skill set that can help cold cases and court proceedings alike. We talked with Forensic Artist Catyana Falsetti to learn more about the process and purpose of forensic artwork, various techniques that are utilized in the process, and how the finished product can restart a cold case.
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): What do you mean by Forensic Art? What does that include?
Catyana Falsetti: Forensic art is any art used in court. These forms of art are usually images generated to identify an unidentified person. In the case of an unidentified suspect, we may use a composite sketch, where we sit down with a witness and create an image from their description. Courtroom art may also include image clarification or images created from video footage.
In the case of an unidentified decedent, forensic artists create images to aid in the identification from the public. If the person’s remains are found soon after they die and they are still recognizable, then an image can be created from the body as it was found, or photographs of the body. If the body is decomposed or skeletonized then a facial reconstruction or facial approximation will be created from the skull.
Forensic art also includes age progressions. Age progressions are used for missing children or missing adult suspects.
JCH: Are there times when law enforcement or justice professionals should be bringing in Forensic artists that they might not initially think of?
Catyana: Forensic art should be used when they are looking for an identification of a suspect or unidentified body.
When remains are found and the body is skeletonized or mummified or in another state of decomposition an image can still be created. The body can be processed and an image can be made with the help of pathologists, anthropologists and crime scene information to create an approximate face.
JCH: How can Forensic Art be used in a cold case file – particularly to restart it?
Catyana: Forensic art can be used to help stimulate cold cases to help identify unidentified decedents and to sometimes link the cases of missing persons to these remains.
If a case is old an image can still be generated from the remains. The body can be exhumed, sometimes using external funds, and then further analysis can be performed. In addition to getting the DNA from the remains, a facial approximation can be created. These facial approximations will be used to stimulate the publics’ memory. To do a DNA comparison of the remains we need to have the right sample from the family. To get these samples, then the family needs to submit them, and the only way for them to do so it to recognize their loved one.
Another usage for cold cases is for long-term missing suspects. Aged images will show a continued interest to the public and legal system. If a person is missing for many years, images of them aged will help continue the search for these suspects.
JCH: What drew you to this topic or career of Forensic Art? What do you wish other justice professionals knew about this topic area?
Catyana: I was drawn to this career because I wanted to use my artistic abilities to help society. I would like other justice professionals to know that there are varying degrees in quality of forensic art, just like every profession, and that it is important to use a good artist, the best way to find one is through word of mouth. There are only approximately 50 full-time forensic artists in the United States of America, but most are open to doing work outside of their jurisdiction or recommending someone in your area. Also, if they have a bad experience with one person, does not mean that it is indicative of the entire field.