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Crime Scene Integrity and Evidence Collection, Page 1 The integrity of a crime scene is extremely important to every aspect of investigation and prosecution. The first officer on scene begins with establishing the crime scene and securing it. This officer or investigator needs to keep people out of the area where the crime occurred, and also where the perpetrator may have been before or after the crime occurred. Any area where the victim or suspect was present needs to be sealed off. If there are any witnesses present, the officer needs to detain and separate them so that they cannot taint each other’s memories with discussion of their observations. Also, the officer must obtain consent to search the crime scene from whomever controls it. However, in the case that the victim needs medical assistance, the victim becomes the priority, but the officer must ask the paramedics not to touch anything that is not absolutely necessary to gaining access to the victim. Also, he will tell the paramedics to carry the victim out on a stretcher instead of rolling the victim out. The efforts of the paramedics can often compromise important evidence like blood spatter, foot or shoe impressions, or other evidence. The victim himself may have evidence on his person, as in the clothing he is wearing or skin under his nails. His wounds may also indicate the type of weapon used, and can give a clue to the emotions of the perpetrator. This may help to establish a suspect and a motive. Even as the officer is getting help for the victim, he must make sure that he does not allow anyone into the crime scene area other than the medics. This would include reporters, government officials, local residents, curious onlookers, or even other officers who have no involvement. The officer must do everything in his power to ensure the integrity of the crime scene. He must also record the time that every action was taken. With those records, it would be difficult for the defense to portray the officer as lazy, not thorough, or incompetent if the case goes to
court. Simply, he must secure the area, assist the victim, if applicable, and make sure that nothing is touched, Crime Scene Integrity and Evidence Collection, Page 2 moved, or taken. This will be simple as long as he keeps everyone away from the area. If the officer can accomplish all this, he will maintain the integrity of the crime scene and help secure the capture and conviction of the perpetrator. Once the team arrives, the crime scene investigation and evidence collection will really begin. The team may be a group of two or more investigators and/or the evidence collection technicians. They will start by taking pictures, making sketches, and taking notes before they actually touch anything. Something as insignificant as the placement of a certain object can turn out to be important to the investigation, so these pictures, sketches, and notes are imperative to the integrity of the investigation. The crime scene is the only chance to recognize, collect, and record physical evidence. The investigators and technicians will all start by putting gloves on. This ensures that the investigator’s or tech’s touch will not contaminate any evidence. Next, they will do a walk-through and take photographs of the entire crime scene to establish the perpetrator’s point of entry, path through the premises, the various rooms he entered, and the location of physical evidence. The investigator will make sketches of the crime scene containing all relevant information such as distances between objects or spatial relationships between items of evidence, indoors or out. After pictures are taken, sketches are drawn, and areas of physical evidence are established, the evidence collection begins. There are three rules of evidence collection. First, the investigator or evidence technician must control all variables. Second, background material must be collected. Third, a sufficient quantity of the sample must be obtained. These rules can be imperative to the prosecution. For example, a woman was poisoning bottles of Excedrin and giving the pills to her husband. He did die, but his death determined to be of natural causes. The Crime Scene Integrity and Evidence Collection, Page 3 woman protested this finding, because his insurance would pay an extra $100,000 if his death was an accident, or murder. To ensure that she could make people believe it was a case of product tampering, she poisoned other bottles and put them on store shelves. Another woman whom she did not even know also died from the poison. This woman may have never been convicted had it not been for the perfect procedure in the evidence collection. The investigators found the cup where she had been crushing the poison. The woman had also been crushing her algae pills for her aquarium in that same cup. Because of the diligence of the evidence team, this woman was arrested and convicted of two murders and product tampering. This is a true life example of how correct procedure in evidence collection can aid the prosecution of a criminal. As for the collection and preservation of the evidence, there are many guidelines. First, there must be no alteration of its inherent quality or composition. All evidence needs to be tagged. This tag needs to include date, time, case number, name of investigator, name of victim or suspect when possible, and description of evidence. Evidence can be tainted in many ways, but there are many ways to make sure that this does not happen. Evidence must be put into fresh, clean, sealable, leak-proof containers. Plastic is preferred when it can be used. You would not want powder evidence to leak from a seam or opening in an envelope, or liquid evidence to leak or evaporate from an improperly stoppered container. You would also not want any bacterial or chemical contamination from unclean containers. You also need to make sure that each piece of evidence goes into a separate container. You can never mix evidence in the same container. You must keep evidence out of sunlight or other elements, and refrigerate evidence if needed. Important evidence can decompose or be altered from exposure to light,
heat, or bacteria. You also must make sure that the evidence is handled as little as possible. You can compromise evidence accidentally by altering a document with a fresh fold or crease, or tearing or cutting a garment. Lastly, the evidence needs to be delivered to the lab as soon as possible. You don’t want the Crime Scene Integrity and Evidence Collection, Page 4 evidence to change hands any more than it has to, so it is best if the investigator or technician delivers the evidence to the lab personally. A few other rules are also needed. For example, bodily fluids must be air dried before storage. Once dry, they must be stored in a paper bag. The sample can mold or putrefy in a plastic bag, and the evidence would be useless. This could cost the capture of the suspect and/or his conviction. Also, if an accelerant is recovered as evidence in an arson case, or any case involving a fire, it should be stored in a metal container since it can evaporate or eat through a plastic container. I’m sure that there are many more exceptions to the rules, since there are special materials that require special handling. Without crime scene integrity and proper evidence collection, our whole American criminal justice system would be compromised. The prosecutor depends on evidence to indict and convict criminals, and it is up to our police officers, investigators, and crime scene technicians to collect and preserve that evidence. Without their hard work, the lab would have a difficult, if not impossible job. If the rules of crime scene integrity and evidence collection are not followed, criminals walk free. Not following rules creates reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury. If we were jurors on a case where the evidence technicians did not properly collect the evidence, would we convict the defendant? Probably not, since we would have some knowledge of the possibility of tainted evidence. Guilty men and women walk free every day for this reason. Not only do guilty men and women walk free, but tainted evidence can also help to convict an innocent man or woman. Either way, someone loses, whether it is the victim or the defendant. In any case where someone is convicted or acquitted wrongly, the entire criminal justice system loses. If our police officers, investigators, and crime scene technicians don’t do their jobs perfectly, in the end, we all lose.
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