Fundamentals of Criminal Investigations
Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.
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Section 2: Crime Scene Documentation
As the old saying goes, “it’s not what you know; it’s what you can prove.” For the investigator, this means that no amount of keen observation and brilliant analysis is worth anything if it is not properly documented for presentation in court. A part of the investigator’s initial assessment of the scene should be to determine what kind of documentation will be necessary. Remember another important rule of criminal investigations: “If it ain’t on paper, it didn’t happen.”
Crime scene processing involves more than merely taking photographs and locating trace evidence. A good detective (or crime scene technician) evaluates the scene to discover what precisely happened, the sequence of events, and if those findings corroborate the statements of victims and witnesses. In addition to these basic tasks, the detective must be alert to anything that may connect the suspect to the crime. This requires a very high level of awareness and hyper-focused attention to detail.
Documentation Procedural Summary
- Review the assessment of the scene to determine the type of documentation needed.
- Coordinate photographs, video, sketches, measurements, and notes.
- Photograph (see Photography section for details the scene utilizing overall, medium, and close-up coverage.
- Photograph evidence to be collected with and without measurement scale and/or evidence identifiers.
- Photograph victims, suspects, witnesses, crowd and vehicles. Consider photographs with additional perspectives (e.g., aerial photographs, witness’s view, the area under body once the body is removed).
- Record video as an optional supplement to photographs
- Prepare preliminary sketches that include measurements of the immediate area of the scene, (noting case identifiers and indicating north on the sketch).
- Sketches should show the relative location of items of evidence, correlating evidence items with evidence records prior to movement.
- Sketches should show rooms, furniture or other objects.
- Sketches should show the distance to adjacent buildings or other landmarks.
- Generate notes at the scene that document the location of the scene, time of arrival and time of departure.
- Notes should describe the scene as it appears.
- Notes should record transient evidence (e.g., smells, sounds, sights) and conditions (e.g., temperature, weather).
- Notes should document circumstances that require a departure from usual procedures.
Modification History File Created: 05/02/2019 Last Modified: 05/15/2019
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