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city_collegeWhile the world of 3D printing is still in a fairly lawless, unregulated state (one to be enjoyed while it lasts by those on the right side of the law), that doesn’t mean it can’t be used to the law’s benefit.

With murder at hand, and a conviction being sought, the technologically savvy staff at the UK’s Plymouth City College was enlisted to turn their making skills toward forensics.

“It was the first time that Devon and Cornwall Police had used this technological process in a court case,” said a spokesman for Plymouth City College.”When we were approached by a senior detective who was involved with the murder trial, our highly trained staff at the college were able to design and produce the weapon using the latest software.”

three - Lee Dent

Lee Dent

Using the college’s Cubex 3D printer, usually reserved for engineering projects, staff spent 28 hours making a 3D model of the bottle said to be responsible for the brutal death of minor Alex Peguero Sosa last summer, during an attack by 42-year-old Lee Dent.

“We worked into the evening and over the weekend to make sure the replica weapon was ready for the court demonstration on the Monday morning,” said a spokesperson.

Police were not shy about reaching out to their academic community for help in the case, also asking for assistance from the University of Leeds to give expert advice about the way a glass bottle would break, thus shedding further light on the attack.

Dent, who was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 22 years to life, admitted to punching him but remained vague and deceptive on the strike against Sosa, claiming it was self-defense, and that he did not realize he was holding a bottle when he went to hit the 17-year-old Plymouth footballer. During the altercation, supposedly precipitated by a ‘joke,’ in Kingsbridge on that fateful July evening in 2014, Dent hit Sosa with the bottle in question, which broke, causing severe neck injuries which led his death.

The original bottle–and murder weapon–was a Newcastle Brown Ale. Because Dent’s self-defense story regarding the attack was not believed, a 3D printed replica was requested so that the prosecutors could have Dent demonstrate how he held the bottle.

“We needed an exact replica but you cannot hand a potential weapon like a glass bottle to a person suspected of a violent offence while they are giving evidence in the dock,” said senior investigating officer, Detective Inspector Ian Ringrose, of the Major Crimes Investigation Team.

twoMaking not only a 3D printed beer bottle, but also history, the college administration was well aware of how groundbreaking the use of the technology was in the courtroom. Progressive, forward thinking resourcefulness led to not only the production of a replica but also a conviction.

“The specialist machine, which was purchased as part of the refurbishment of the college’s state-of-the-art Engineering Centre, was normally used by engineering students to support their project work,” said a college spokesperson. “The equipment has previously been used to create prototypes and parts to repair equipment, but this was the first time it had been applied to forensic crime solving.”

While not only helping in the courtroom as well as shining a positive light on how 3D printing can help in the legal system, this process further solidified and accentuated the college’s curriculum in forensic science and lab courses.

We’ve also reported on companies that specialize in providing 3D printed models for courtroom evidence, like 3D Printed Evidence. As 3D printing being used for evidence becomes more accepted and realized as a tool, local jurisdictions will likely become more comfortable with using the technology for evidence.

3D printing in forensics and as models regarding evidence is more affordable, and involves a much less arduous way to produce models for the courtroom, as opposed to traditional methods, including that of creating plaster casts. With the infinite possibilities presented through 3D printed technology, jurors have more precise models to view, thus helping them to make more educated decisions.

While we’ve reported numerous times on the dubious ways in which criminals have invested in 3D printing to use for their own devices, it’s positive to see 3D printing make an impact in the courtroom, helping jurors to take a more accurate look at the full story.

Have you heard of 3D printing being used in the courtroom in your area, or somewhere else? How do you think this will continue to make an impact? Share with us in the 3D Printed Broken Bottle forum over at 3DPB.com.

Alex Peguero Sosa

Alex Peguero Sosa

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