The submission introduces the topic it intends to cover by defining what a crime scene is and the importance of crime scenes in the criminal justice system. It then outlines the categories of crime scenes then gives the types of crime scenes under each category while briefly describing how each type of crime scene is and stating some of the aspects to appreciate under each type of crime scene. The submission then goes to discuss the law relating to admissibility of illegally collected materials and in doing that the locus classicus in the subject matter and other cases are subsequently discussed after laying out the difference in jurisprudence; the common law position and the position of the law in the United States of America with regards to admissibility of illegally obtained evidence. Finally, the paper briefly describes how the collection of evidence is done and briefly describes some of the types of evidence collected from crime scenes and outlines the importance of such evidence as it concludes.
A crime scene can simply be defined as a place where a crime allegedly happened or took place and more specifically where the physical evidence is concentrated . Crime scene investigation plays critical roles in the criminal justice system in the sense that it is through the crime scene investigation that evidence leading to the determination of crime allegations are significantly obtained . The origin of the crime scene investigation concept can be dated back to the 18th Century in England where an increase in crimes necessitated its development.
Crimes scenes can be categorised in a number of ways. Types and scope of crimes scenes vary depending on the kind of the subject crime which is more often than not different . In the first category, which is largely based on proximity, there are two types of crime scenes. These are the Primary Crime Scenes and the Secondary Crime scenes. The Primary crime scene is the exact spot or place where a crime took place while the secondary crime scene is the region surrounding the primary crime scene. For instance, a murder took place in the living room of a residential house, the living room of that residential house becomes the primary crime scene and the other rooms together with the surrounding of that residential house become secondary crime scenes. Secondary crime scenes are usually equally as essential as the primary crime scenes and this can be demonstrated by the fact that in a good number of cases it is in the secondary crime scenes that the perpetrators try to destroy or get rid of incriminating evidence such as murder weapons.
The next category of types of crime scenes is based on the place where the crime allegedly took place or occurred . Under this category, the first type of crime scene is the Outdoor Crime Scene. Outdoor crime scenes are usually delicate and susceptible to contamination. This is because outdoor crime scenes are usually easily accessed by members of the general public and at times curious members of the public gather around the crime scene thereby contaminating it by damaging the already available evidence such as shoe prints and end up even adding more samples of ‘evidence’ not relevant to the crime. Environmental factors such as wind, rain and snow may also interfere with or contaminate outdoor crime scenes thereby hindering the process of collecting evidence from the scene. Outdoor crime scenes are even more difficult to collect evidence from at night. During the night, despite using some of the most powerful sources of illumination still prove difficult to collect particular types of evidence such as hair strands and tiny drops of body fluids for DNA sampling . Rescue workers, medics and even crime scene investigators also tamper with outdoor crime scenes in course of their work because evidence collection is usually not the priority at the exact moment or soon after the occurrence of crimes. Therefore, securing of outdoor crime scenes are important especially to preserve the scene to daytime when the same can properly be examined and evidence properly collected.
Indoor crime scenes are another type of crime scenes under this category of crime scenes. Indoor crime scenes are relatively secure compared to the outdoor crime scenes which are more often than not open and accessible by the members of the public. The significant problem in collecting evidence from indoor crime scenes is that the crime scenes could be contaminated by biological evidence that has gathered in the indoor crime scene over a long period of time preceding the occurrence of the subject crime. Indoor crime scenes can also be contaminated by rescue workers, medics and even crime scene investigators but the degree and likelihood is less compared to the outdoor crime scenes . Night time collection of evidence from indoor crime scenes can also pose a great challenge and its best to secure the crime scene and collect the evidence during daytimes.
Conveyance Crime scenes is the other type of crime scenes. This is a dynamic crime scene that involves moved items such as motor vehicle theft, kidnapping, carjacking, grand thefts and some forms of homicides. This type of crime scene is unique in each case and an investigator ought to use the circumstance to determine how to study the crime scene. Shoe prints walking away from one point of the scene, blood drops trailing away from the point of the scene and even places with few people lead the investigators to the other points of the crime scene . There is no particular method laid down for collecting evidence from the conveyance crime scenes, it all depends on the nature and circumstances of the crime. Securing the conveyance crime scene could be hectic but one obvious way is to move the conveyance to a crime lab to allow ample time for collecting evidence before the same is contaminated by environmental factors or the perpetrators who are seeking to destroy the evidence. This method is only applicable where the conveyance can easily be moved. For instance a vehicle that was used to kidnap and move the victim. Numerous factors can cause destruction and contamination of evidence when it comes to this type of crime scene and at the same time securing the crime scene on time to save the evidence also poses a great challenge to the crime scene investigators.
The law concerning collection of evidence in the United States of America takes a different approach from the Common law positions of the same. At Common law, illegally obtained evidence in most circumstances, subject to the discretion of the courts, are admissible. The position in the American jurisprudence is that illegally obtained evidence is inadmissible and in courts, this becomes an issue when the crime scene investigators access the crime scene and in the process breaching fundamental rights and liberties of citizens. In Mincey v. Arizona, the accused was convicted for the murder of an undercover police officer and the evidence that was majorly relied to achieve the conviction were obtained when after the accused was arrested, the investigators seized his house for three days and collected evidence. The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the trial court on the grounds that the evidence majorly relied on to convict him was obtained without a search warrant and as such violated the accused’s Fourth Amendment rights; stating that there was no homicide crime scene exception to the Fourth Amendment rights .
In Thompson v. Louisiana, a woman who suffered from depression shot and killed her husband then overdosed on drugs in an attempt to commit suicide. After taking the drugs she had a change of mind and did not want to die; she then called out for help and she was rushed to hospital. While she was in hospital, the state crime scene investigators collected evidence which they relied on in court and she was then convicted for the murder of her husband . The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the trial court on the grounds that the evidence mainly relied on to convict her was obtained without a search warrant and as such violated the accused’s Fourth Amendment rights; stating that there was no homicide crime scene exception to the Fourth Amendment rights.
In Flippo v. West Virginia, the Appellant was a pastor who was allegedly having homosexual affairs with one member of his church congregation and his wife found out about the affair and threatened to divorce him. In a bid to reconcile with the wife, he offered to take her out for camping and they went out; where they were attacked and his wife sustained serious injuries to which she succumbed while he sustained slight injuries. State investigators stormed the premises and collected evidence. The crime scene investigators found pornographic photos of him and the male lover in his briefcase and used the same as evidence of motive . Flippo’s conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the evidence relied on to convict him was obtained without a search warrant and as such violated the accused’s Fourth Amendment rights; stating that there was no homicide crime scene exception to the Fourth Amendment rights.
Before evidence can be collected, the crime scene is usually properly documented and the location of the evidence marked by evidence markers. Collection of evidence usually starts by collecting the most fragile of evidence. Priority can be given to objects that may need to be moved and the collection is done in a logical manner, following the trail of evidence as they may occur . Photographs of the scene are to be taken in a sequence especially when unveiling layers of evidence that may have not been documented. Items and objects identified as evidence are usually carried in plastic bags, plastic bottles and envelops. Evidence from arson crime scenes are usually carried in air tight containers. Any items that may contaminate each other should be transported separately to avoid destruction of the evidence.
The containers should bear the initials of the investigator’s name that collected it and other details such as date and time collected. The containers should also bear a detailed description of the item and the place where it was collected from. The container should also bear the identity of the investigating agency and the file number of that particular case or investigation. When collecting items and objects to be used as evidence, an investigator ought to know what items would evidence the crime being investigated. The investigator should be able to know which items when collected as evidence have a lot of weight in establishing facts so as to spend time gathering the most relevant pieces of evidence . Considering that an investigator more often than not have only one shot at the crime scene, the investigator should endeavour to get the most out of the scene.
Fingerprints are one of the types of evidence that crime scene investigators look for and collect in crime scenes. Fingerprints for the purposes of crime scene investigations include palm-prints and bare footprints. Fingerprints on non-moveable items should be processed on the scene using the various powder agents and special cameras. Blood and other body fluids are also identified and collected from crime scenes. These are collected to be used for DNA analysis using the RFLP method of analysis. The taking of DNA samples is significant to try and match the sample found in the scene with the accused’s DNA .
Broken fingernails are usually looked for in crime scenes especially where a struggle could have occurred. Broken fingernails can also be matched with the individual who was involved in a crime even several months after the crime was committed .
Bite Marks are usually photographed using special cameras and can be used to match the bite marks with the teeth that did the biting and it goes a long way to identify or confirm the identity of the assailant. Bite marks are usually common in cases of sexual assault and even murder .
Firearms and tool marks are also collected and go a long way in either establishing the fingerprints on the firearms and also to identify and/or confirm if the firearms or tool actually caused any injuries that constituted the crime under investigation. Other forms of evidence that crime scene investigators look for and collect include: Fracture matches, hair, fibre, paint, glasses, shoe prints, tire tracks and any other form of phenomena that may be taken and used to prove any facts alleged against an accused person or in identifying the person or persons to charge in a court of law .
In Conclusion, crime scenes and collection of evidence from them is very important in the criminal justice system. Considering that the burden of proof in Criminal matters is that of beyond any reasonable doubt, prosecutors need all the evidence that Crime Scene Investigators can extract from a crime scene. Understanding the different types of crime scenes would go a long way in assisting a crime scene investigator to take all the necessary measures to ensure that he or she gets the most out of any crime scene without contaminating or damaging evidence while collecting them. Understanding the laws that governs obtaining of evidence is also important considering that the exclusionary rule and the doctrine of the fruit from the poisonous tree disallow the use of illegally obtained evidence. Knowing the proper methods of collecting evidence and the types of evidence collected from a crime scene would enable a crime scene investigator determine what type of evidence to look for and what type of evidence would have a lot of probative value to a case.
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