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Nicola Charles at the Intersection of Law and Science

WVU Law offers the only LL.M. in Forensic Justice in the country. It is designed to prepare lawyers to work in and out of the courtroom with expert witnesses, crime scene investigators, and DNA and other scientifically gathered evidence.

Nicola Charles has long been drawn to the science behind criminal justice and law enforcement. In May 2016, Charles earned her J.D. from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University.

Now, she’s taking her legal education to higher level with an Forensic Justice online from the WVU College of Law and is expected to finish in August 2017.

“I wanted to do something that merged my law degree with my forensic science background,” said Charles. “That’s where the LL.M in Forensic Justice comes in, and I believe it is the catalyst that seamlessly merges my two areas of expertise.”

Before law school, Charles had a successful 15-year career in forensic science. She spent eight years as a crime scene specialist for the Gwinnett County (Georgia)Police Department, processing crime scenes from burglaries to homicides.

As a certified U.S. Army instructor, Charles later trained soldiers to identify, collect, and process forensic material in combat zones.

At a forensic lab in Iraq, she processed and analyzed forensic material collected in combat zones. Then, in Afghanistan, she developed and analyzed fingerprints from recovered improvised explosive devices (IED) as a Certified Latent Print Examiner (CLPE).

When Charles returned to the United States, she opened a consulting firm that provides criminal defense lawyers with forensic assessments of their cases. One of her key jobs is to provide court testimony based on her findings.

The Forensic Justice LL.M. will allow Charles to testify as an expert in fingerprint analysis and forensic science as well as provide legal analyses in court, she explained.

Charles also plans to use her LL.M. to teach other lawyers forensic science CLE seminars, she said.When she began looking for a program to help advance her career, Charles could not find a program that combined her career and law degree.

“I had been looking for something like WVU Law’s LL.M. program, but nobody offered it,” said Charles.

“One day I was on my computer and an ad for the LL.M. in Forensic Justice popped up. It was like divine intervention, like Jesus was telling me, ‘this is where you need to be’.”

While she completes her LL.M. online, Charles is working for the Veal Law Firm in McDonough, Georgia.

The coursework is vigorous, she said, but her professors make themselves available via email and telephone to provide her the guidance assistance needs be successful.

The Forensic Justice LL.M. is taught by law professors and faculty from WVU's Department of Forensic Investigative science at the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

In addition to her J.D., Charles holds multiple certifications including crime scene investigation, crime scene photography, blood splatter analysis, crime scene processing, latent print comparison, and latent film development. She is also a member of the International Association for Identification and the Georgia Division of the International Association for Identification.

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