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Marlene Leyva

Forensic Investigator, Sheriff's Department

Marlene is a real-life CSI! She has always been interested in forensics, or the use of science to investigate facts. That interest led her from her hometown of Miami, FL to Cal State University Los Angeles, where she received a degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Forensics. Although her role as a forensic investigator with the Sheriff's Department can sometimes be sad, she takes comfort in the fact that her investigation enables the decedent (or dead person) to tell a story they are no longer able to tell—that is, what happened?

Nancy asked Marlene about her work, the path she took to get there, and why she loves being a scientist.

Nancy: I like that you help to tell the story of what happened in your cases. How do you do this?

Marlene: Well, once I arrive at the scene, I gather evidence that will help me understand what might have happened. I take photos, make a diagram of the area, complete interviews with people who were present, gather personal property and keep it safe, and finally, I review the body.

Nancy: Are there any special tools you use during your investigation?

Marlene: Investigators can use magnifiers to look for evidence, examine clothing, and even to investigate wounds, but my favorite tool is the Integrated Biometric Identification System (IBIS). It's a small, handheld machine that I take on-scene to get a digital thumbprint. Once I've taken a print the IBIS can identify the decedent within 5 minutes.

Nancy: That is a cool tool! What other cool things have you done in your career?

Marlene: I am also employed by the US Department of Health and Human Services as part of the National Disaster Medical Team. In 2012 I was sent to Haiti to help after the earthquake there.

Nancy: What advice do you have for future scientists?

Marlene: Work and study very hard! I've had to sacrifice a lot of personal time, but it was well worth it.


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