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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Research Paper on Legal Guidelines for Criminal Investigations

Research Paper on Legal Guidelines for Criminal Investigations

            Homicide investigations are always very difficult.  Law enforcement officers have to deal with the members of the family of the deceased, the media, and the suspect.  The investigators have the unenviable task of informing the families that their relative is dead and appears to be a victim of a homicide.  They also have to respond to the questions of the media which, at times, may interfere with the investigation.  Their most important task however is to determine who the suspect is and to find evidence that they can use against him in court. 
A.  Identification and Preservation of Crime Scene
            The most important thing the investigator should do is to identify and preserve the crime scene.  The search of the crime scene and its scope is considered the most important phase of the investigation conducted at the crime scene. (Vernon Geberth 1)  Investigators must keep in mind that physical evidence is the most credible kind of evidence as compared to the testimonial and the documentary evidence.  It is the unimpeachable witness that cannot be clouded by “a faulty memory, prejudice, poor eyesight or a desire not to get involved.”  Physical evidence, indeed, speaks more eloquently, so to speak, than a hundred witnesses.
It is because of this reason that the investigator must see to it that the crime scene is immediately preserved.  Reasonable precaution must be taken so that the people within the vicinity of the crime scene do not contaminate the crime scene by leaving footprints or fingerprints on it or by disturbing the crime scene.  According to Nicole Lundrigan (2001), “the number of extraneous traces must be minimized. The innermost perimeter, where the death occurred, must be secured and no one but the coroner, who will pronounce the death, and the identification detective should be found within this perimeter.” (2)
B.  Confirmation or Pronunciation of Death
After the crime scene has been preserved, the investigator must determine whether the victim is still alive (US Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs 17).  In this regard, it will very important to check the victim’s neck or wrist area for pulse. If the victim is alive, then the investigator must immediately call for an ambulance.  If the victim is conscious, the investigator while waiting for the ambulance must ask questions like who the assailant is, if known.  If unknown the investigator must get the assailant’s description from the victim.  Determining the identity or getting the description of the accused is important so that in case the victim dies while being transferred to the hospital, such evidence may still be admitted in court under the principle of dying declaration.  Under this principle, the statements made by the victim, who have knowledge that death is impending or near, as to who the assailant is to the investigator may be admitted in court even if the victim dies after. In this case, the prosecutor needs only to present the investigator to whom the information was relayed.  This is an exception to the hearsay evidence rule. 
If, on the other hand, the victim is unconscious, it should be the task of the investigator to accompany the victim at all times.  It is possible for the victim to regain consciousness while he is being taken to the hospital.  Investigator must be able to get the necessary information from the victim. 
C.  Taking of Photographs and Sketch
The investigator must ensure that before the body of the victim is removed from the crime scene he must take photographs of the victim’s position at the time it is found and the entire crime scene.  Photographs help in the preservation of crime scene such that even if the evidence have been gathered, moved or collected, investigators will still have a means to study the relative position of the body and the physical evidence and where they are found.
After the taking of photographs is completed, or if no camera is available, the investigator should make a sketch of the crime scene.  The sketch records the exact position of every piece of evidence including the position of the victim according to precise measurements.  A crime sketch presents the advantage of making the relative position of each piece of evidence identifiable unlike the photograph which cannot measure the position of every piece of evidence. The taking of photographs and the sketches help in the reconstruction of the crime scene and in determining how the crime was committed.
D. Gathering of Evidence
Once the pictures have been taken and the sketch of the crime scene has been done, it is now time to gather and collect the pieces of evidence.  The investigator should look for the weapon used to kill the victim.  If the victim was stabbed, then the investigator should look for the knife or any sharp instrument that may have been used by the assailant.  If the victim was shot, then the investigator should look for the gun or the discharged casing of the bullet.  The weapon is very important in determining the identity of the assailant since it may contain fingerprints.  This is true especially if the weapon used has blood smeared on it.   The investigator should take precaution that the weapon found at the crime and the discharged casing should be properly taken from the crime scene.  This is because once the weapon is held using the investigator’s hand, it is possible that existing fingerprints may be smudged or the investigator himself may leave his fingerprints on it.  It may not be good for the prosecution at the time the evidence is presented in court.
The victim and his clothing can also be a source of evidence.  If there are signs of struggle between the assailant/s and the victim, it is possible that the victim may have obtained hair samples or blood samples which may be used to identify the assailant.  It is therefore important also to process even the body and the clothing of the victim for evidence.
E. Preservation of Evidence
After the pieces of evidence have been identified and gathered from the crime scene, the investigator must make sure that they are preserved.  Preserving the evidence is as important as locating and gathering it from the crime scene.  Once pieces of evidence have been recovered at the crime scene the method of storing and labeling it can influence its integrity. Investigators should therefore avoid storing the pieces of evidence in improper storage containers or storing the material at an improper temperature of humidity or even mislabeling the containers where physical evidence are stored and kept.  Simple mistakes such as improper storage and mislabeling may compromise the result of the entire investigation.   
It is therefore important that the objects found at the crime scene where fingerprints could be found should be handled with great care.  The objective is to avoid adding fingerprints to the evidence or smudging or destroying the fingerprints that are present in these objects.  When these objects are lifted or taken, great care should be taken so that these objects are touched as little as possible.  (“Evidence Collection Guidelines” 5) Also, it is also important that the objects which have been dusted for fingerprints should be placed on heavy cardboard and properly fastened down with string to avoid shifting and coming into contact with other objects while they are in transit.   It is also important that the physical evidence placed in containers or boxes are properly labeled so as to avoid confusion on where the physical evidence is taken.  For example if the blood is taken from the suspect, then it should be so labeled. 
In addition, the chain of custody or the persons who come into contact with the physical evidence should also be identified and known.  The chain of custody makes sure that only persons who are authorized to take custody of the evidence had access to the physical evidence from the time it was taken from the crime scene to the time it was presented to the court.  For example, only the persons who are authorized to analyze and store the object from the time the evidence was taken by the investigator and sent to the laboratory for analysis until the point where the object is stored must take custody of it. 
F.  Miranda Rights Doctrine
            The last point is that investigators must make sure that should they decide to interrogate a suspect who is found at the crime scene they must make sure that the requirements under the Miranda Law has been observed.  Investigator see to it that the suspect has been informed of his right and that he has the right to remain silent and to secure the services of his own counsel.  If he is indigent, the suspect should be advised that the state can provide with him his own counsel.

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