Crime Scene Investigation

The location of a suspected criminal incident is usually referred to as the crime scene. In some cases, it may be obvious that a violent or otherwise illegal activity has taken place. In others the crime scene investigator will be initially tasked with establishing whether a crime has been committed and conducting a forensic investigation. The investigation is the process of ascertaining facts, conducting a detailed and careful examination to conclude what might have happened and who did it. The scenes of vehicle accidents, accidental or sudden deaths, suicides, suspected homicides, theft, fraud, sexual assaults, fires and drug investigations are all examples of potential crime scenes.

Crime scene locations are labeled as primary and secondary. The primary location is the area in which the incident occurred or where the majority of physical evidence will be found. Secondary locations contain physical evidence relating to the incident, which may include items transported away from the primary location, like vehicles, weapons and bodies. Use of the word investigation within the context of crime scene analysis encompasses the identification, recording and collection of all potential evidentiary material and the interpretation of the circumstances surrounding the crime by reconstruction techniques, which attempt to reveal the modus operandi. The practice of crime scene investigation requires specialist skills, knowledge and aptitude. Accordingly, a disciplined approach and systematic application of various observation, recording and collection techniques are needed.

The management and co-ordination of crime scenes requires three things: The resources to carry them out, the technical equipment to record and recover potential evidence, and establishing an interpretation of what has occurred in the recent past. Investigations involve a variety of specialist methods depending on the nature of the crime. Examples of these include DNA profiling and a number of areas of forensics, including psychology, pathology, anthropology, optometry and toxicology. Forensic science is a powerful aid to criminal investigation within the courts. Good management of crime scene investigations involves and depends on various factors, from scene security, occupational health and safety, documents and records management, preventative and corrective action and laboratory information management, to quality assurance, court reports and court processing. Approaching the crime scene, containing the evidence and documenting relevant information are key steps in a thorough and conscientious investigation. The investigator considers and collates as much information about the crime as possible, covering the locations the crime is connected to, people who may be connected to the crime directly and indirectly, and the timings of activities relevant to the case.

Crime scenes are broken down into zones to be examined more thoroughly. Areas of particular interest include the point of entry, surrounding area and, in the case of murder, location of a body. Police barrier tape may cordon these areas off to the public if necessary. Preserving evidence at its most useful is important to scientific investigation; therefore factors such as the weather and location may impact on finding clues. Crime scene photography gives an accurate and permanent record of evidence as it is found. Warlen (1995) suggests that photographs can help witnesses recall events and assist the clarity of witness statements when used in court. It can assist with evidence being reassembled, re-inspected and reviewed throughout the investigation.

Criminal profiling analyses details from the scene that provide possible insights into the type of person responsible for the crime – possible motivations, glimpses of their lifestyle, their fantasies and victim selection process, and behavior of the suspect before and after the incident. Criminal profilers use police reports, photographs, witness statements, laboratory reports, and autopsy photographs to search for behavioral details. This process allows the profiler to understand and create an idea of the crime and offender. Interpreting behaviors will help the investigator narrow down the suspect list and structure the investigation process.

Fingerprint analysis remains widely used in the identification of criminals. All fingerprints are unique, and studies show that ridge patterns on fingertips remain the same throughout a person's lifespan, save for natural growth, accidents, mutilation or skin disease. Powders, chemical reagents or high intensity light sources are methods to capture the impression of an individual's fingerprint, which is easily collected as evidence. DNA testing is also used to assist identification of individuals using well established methods of molecular biology. Forensic scientists can then compare the DNA from a crime scene to a defendant. Matching DNA to that found at a crime scene is powerful evidence.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Practice of Crime Scene Investigation
John Horswell.
Taylor & Francis, 2004
Crime Scene Investigation: Methods and Procedures
Ian K. Pepper.
Open University Press, 2005
Clues from Killers: Serial Murder and Crime Scene Messages
Dirk C. Gibson.
Praeger, 2004
Murder 101: Homicide and Its Investigation
Robert L. Snow.
Praeger, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 - 4 "The Crime Scene", "The Body" and "Physical Evidence of Murder"
Forensics under Fire: Are Bad Science and Dueling Experts Corrupting Criminal Justice?
Jim Fisher.
Rutgers University Press, 2008
Fraudulent Forensic Evidence: Malpractice in Crime Laboratories
Hasan Buker.
LFB Scholarly, 2012
Genetic Witness: Science, Law, and Controversy in the Making of DNA Profiling
Jay D. Aronson.
Rutgers University Press, 2007
Database Limitations on the Evidentiary Value of Forensic Mitochondrial DNA Evidence
Kaestle, Frederika A.; Kittles, Ricky A.; Roth, Andrea L.; Ungvarsky, Edward J.
American Criminal Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 1, Winter 2006
Improving Forensic Science through State Oversight*
Goldstein, Ryan M.
Texas Law Review, Vol. 90, No. 1, November 2011
An Equivocal Death and Staged Crime Scene
Geberth, Vernon.
Law & Order, Vol. 52, No. 11, November 2004
Fingerprints: Not a Gold Standard: A Few Judges Are Showing Signs of Skepticism, and It's about Time
Mnookin, Jennifer L.
Issues in Science and Technology, Vol. 20, No. 1, Fall 2003
Psychological Profiling: Investigative Implications from Crime Scene Analysis
Schlesinger, Louis B.
Journal of Psychiatry & Law, Vol. 37, No. 1, Spring 2009
Blood Spatter Interpretation at Crime and Accident Scenes: A Basic Approach
Akin, Louis L.
The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Vol. 74, No. 2, February 2005
Legal Considerations for Crime Scene Investigation
Geberth, Vernon.
Law & Order, Vol. 51, No. 5, May 2003
The "CSI Effect" in an Actual Juror Sample: Why Crime Show Genre May Matter
Mancini, Dante E.
North American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 15, No. 3, December 2013
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