Forensic Science Essay Research Paper The word

Forensic Science Essay, Research Paper

The word Forensic comes from the Latin forensus, meaning of the forum.1 In

ancient Rome, the forum was where lawmaking debates were held, but it was also

where trials were held just like modern day courthouses. From that, forensic

science has come to mean the application of the natural and physical science to

the motion of matters within a legal context2. Forensic Science can be viewed as

a tripartite structure consisting of a Collection, which pertains to the science

investigation, Examination, which pertains to the medical investigation and,

Presentation, which pertains to the courts. A forensic case will involve all

aspects of each of the three structured elements, each being as important as the

other. It is obvious that there needs to be a shared approach for the successful

end of each case. Each step in forensic science must be done in an exact order;

therefore it can be assured that the investigation can have few doubts about

what is being debated. In this paper I will focus my attention on the first

aspect of the three-step structure, Collections and Scientific Investigation. I

will show what should be done at crimes scenes, how crime scenes should be

handled and what steps must be followed to ensure that all evidence is

uncontaminated as when the crime was committed.

The purpose of crime scene investigation is to help establish what happened at

the crime and to identify the responsible person or people. Carefully

documenting the situation at a crime scene and recognizing all-important

physical evidence do this. The ability to recognize and properly collect

physical evidence is often times vital to both solving and prosecuting violent

crimes. It is no exaggeration to say that in the majority of cases, the law

enforcement officer who protects and searches a crime scene plays a significant

role in determining whether physical evidence will be used in solving or

prosecuting violent crimes.

Documenting a crime scene and its conditions can include directly recording

brief details such as lighting, furniture, fingerprints, and other valuable

information. Certain evidence if not collected right away can easily be lost,

destroyed or ruined. The range of investigations can also expand to the fact of

dispute in such cases as suicide or self-defense. It is also important to be

able to recognize what should be present at a crime scene, what to look for at a

crime scene and what might appear out of place. A crime scene often does not

relate to the direct area in which a victim or actual crime has occurred, but

the possibility of escape or access routes should also be checked. Anything,

which can be used to connect a victim to a suspect or a suspect to a victim or a

crime scene, is important physical evidence. Richard Saferstein explains,

Physical evidence encompasses any and all objects that can establish that a

crime has been committed or can provide a link between a crime scene and its

victim or a crime and its perpetrator (31). I will now explain the appropriate

techniques and ways a crime scene and physical evidence should be handled and


One of the first things an officer should do once he gets to the crime scene is

to take control and secure the scene as quickly as possible. This is to prevent

anyone from ruining evidence and to keep unauthorized person or persons out of

the area such as the media, the public or anyone who doesn’t belong. While this

is being done, an officer should also be alert for useless evidence and note if

there are any possible approach or escape routes. After an officer does this, he

should conclude the degree in which the scene has been protected and make sure

there is enough security in the area. All persons entering and exiting the crime

scene should be logged and kept down to a bare minimum to make sure the purity

of the crime scene when the case goes to court. Each person involved in the

crime scene should have knowledge relative to its original conditions to avoid

from accidental movement of objects, evidence or anything, which might hurt in

the investigation of the crime. When all of this is done, the next step that can

occur is the actual inspection of the crime scene.

The inspection of the crime scene will usually begin with a walk through of the

area along the trial of the crime. The trail is that area, which all noticeable

actions connected with a crime, took place. It is also sometimes marked by the

presence of physical evidence; this may include the point of entry, the location

of the crime, areas where a suspect may have cleaned up and the point of exit.

The purpose of the walk through is to note the location of potential evidence

and to mentally outline how the scene will be physically examined. The first

place investigators should look is the ground they walk on. This is to prevent

any evidence from being destroyed and if observed should be marked and warned to

others not to step in that area. As the walk through occurs, the investigators

should make sure their hands are busy and they don’t touch anything. The best

way to prevent from touching anything is to keep your hands in your pockets.

Once the walk through has been completed, the scene should be documented with

videotape, photographs and sketches. Any or all objects can provide a link

between a crime and its victim/suspect; therefore it is very important that the

crime scene be well photographed and recorded

One of the first steps in documenting and recording a crime is videotape.

Videotapes can provide a perspective on the crime scene layout that cannot be as

easily perceived in photographs and sketches. The condition of the scene should

remain unmoved with the exception of markers placed by investigators to show

small things that might not be seen such as bullets, bloodstains or other key

pieces of evidence. A key in videotaping is slow movement through out the scene

and should be done so from beginning to end. It is also wise to go over an area

twice in order to prevent unnecessary rewinding of the tape when viewing and to

make sure the taper has captured everything. Taping should begin with the

general outline of the scene and surrounding area. Taping should continue

throughout the scene using different angles, close-ups, and still shots for a

few seconds. Once videotaping has finished it is then best to also capture the

crime scene with still photography.

Regardless if a scene has been videotaped, still photographs are a must at every

crime scene. Although videotaping does record everything, photographs can

demonstrate certain things such as direct comparison. Actual size photographs

can be used to compare fingerprint and shoe prints photographed at the scene

against the suspect. Again, when photographing, the outer part of the scene

should be taking first to show the surrounding areas, then towards the crime

scene itself. Wide angle photos should be used of the crime scene and

surrounding areas. A good technique to use when shooting rooms is to shoot from

many possible angles such as from all four corners, from a doorway or from a

window. When close-ups are necessary of key pieces of evidence, a ruler should

be photographed with the items where relative size is important. While each

photograph is being taken, a person should also be taking notes on what the

person is shooting, in order at a later date to understand what was trying to be

accomplished. After still photography has been taken, the final step in

recording a crime scene is to sketch and draw the scene out by hand.

While photographs are two-dimensional and often can alter distance and size,

sketches provide the means of showing distance or objects, and an over-head view

of the area and surroundings. A sketch is usually made of the scene as if one is

looking straight down or straight ahead. Measurements should be taken at crime

scene of distances between two objects, room measurements and key pieces of

evidence. Two measurements should be taken at right angles to each other from

two location points. Each measurement should be double measured to make sure

they are correct and accurate. A professional using all the measurements and

notes taken by the investigators can make a final sketch. However, the original

sketches should not be thrown out but saved along with other key evidence in

case a disagreement occurs or something was missed. Once the crime scene has

been recorded with videotaping, still photography and sketches, gathering of

evidence can occur.

Gathering and locating physical evidence is a very slow a tiresome job when

done correctly, however, it can surrender many clues. One of the first things an

investigator must determine is the size and area that must be searched. The main

focus search must include all likely points of entry and exits used by the

criminals. When searching, certain patterns may be used to cover and examine the

area. There are about three different ways in which an area can be examined. One

way is a spiral search method, which is by starting in the center of the scene

and work in a spiral outward do this method until all of the scene has been

covered and checked. Another method and usually the preferred method is the grid

method. This is done by marking the crime scene into a grid and walking in a

straight line from one side of the grid towards the other where as you make 180

degrees turn and come back a few steps over from where you just searched. This

pattern overlaps itself and I feel is one of the best search methods. The final

method used is a quadrant or zone search. This is when the scene is divided into

certain quadrants, usually four and each zone is searched with either the spiral

or strip line search. Then after each zone is searched, the overall scene can be

searched using the above patterns.

When evidence is found it must be package and protected in a way that prevents

any physical change from happening from the time it is taken to the it reaches

the crime laboratory. Such things like breakage, contamination, evaporation and

ruined samples can all be avoided with proper handling and packaging. Original

conditions must be maintained at all cost and when ever possible the entire

object should be submitted to the crime laboratory. Good judgment must be

maintained and common sense usually plays a role. Each different item must be

placed in separate containers to prevent cross- contamination. It is also wise

to take comparative samples, so that evidence can be compared to normal or

controlled pieces. Unbreakable bottles with lids are good for such things as

hair, glass, fibers and other evidence. However, when anything contains blood

evidence, it must be placed in a non-seal able container, such as paper bags.

This is to stop bacteria from forming and possibly making the evidence unusable.

Also good for evidence collection are manila envelopes, cardboard boxes and

paper bags. Besides blood, special interest must be made towards clothing. All

clothing must be air-dried and placed individually in separate paper bags to

ensure constant circulation to prevent mold or mildew from happening. The only

time a seal able container must be used, is in the cases when suspicious fires

are being investigated.

Finally, with gathering evidence at crime scenes, an investigator must make sure

he not only labels the evidence, but also makes a correct description on all

sketches and diagrams. Evidence should not be handled a great deal after

recovery and should be kept down to as few people as possible. Investigators

must continuously check paperwork, packaging notations, and other recording of

information for possible conflict or errors, which may cause confusion or

problems at a later time in court.

Once evidence is gathered it must be sent to a laboratory for processing and

further investigation. When items are to be delivered the method usually depends

on how far away the laboratory is from the crime scene. In most cases, a state

or local laboratory is within a few hours and delivery can be made by personal

delivery. However, in some cases when items must be shipped to F.B.I.

headquarters in Washington D.C., personal delivery is usually out of the

question. When an item needs to be shipped via mail, it should be packaged in a

way not to damage it. Postal regulations do forbid such things as ammunition or

explosives from being send through the mail. Each item when shipped should be

logged and sent with a checklist in order to make sure everything shipped is

accounted for. An in depth report should also be sent of the crime, notes, and

why the items were sent and what should be looked for.

Along with the evidence, control specimens should also be sent to the laboratory

so that they can evaluate evidence to a normal piece of what is being looked


One of the main concerns with physical evidence always argued by the courts is

whether or not the evidence was obtained legally. Often with a few major court

cases, evidence has been thrown because it was obtained illegally to make sure

of a conviction. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, The right

of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,

against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no

warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation,

and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things

to be seized.(U.S. Constitution) With this, the Constitution means the police do

have a right to seize items or evidence that might help them in determining a

suspect, however they do not have to the right to take the items illegality. The

police must have probable cause in order to take property and seize items, which

belong to someone else. Unreasonable searches and seizures occur when the

officers in charge do not have the authority to be at a certain place or do not

have the courts or owners permission to look around, or about the person’s

property or area.

One case that clearly shows how illegal searches and seizures took place against

a defendant is in the case of Michigan v. Tyler4. In this case, Loren Tyler who

leased a business was charged with arson after his business was destroyed by

fire. During the investigation, various items and physical evidence were

recovered from the building. However, on three other separate occasions, 4 days,

7 days, and 25 days after the fire, investigators came back to the scene and

again took various items that they thought would help them build a case against

Tyler. Each of these searches was made without a warrant or without consent of

the owner. During the trial, the physical evidence seized in all four searches

was used to convict Tyler of arson. On appeal, the U.S. Supreme court upheld a

reversal of the conviction saying that the evidence was illegal. The other

searches were made without consent, or with out probable cause, the ensuing

reentries to the scene were prohibited and a new trial was arranged on these

conditions. The message as explained from the Supreme Court is clear, When time

and circumstances permit, obtain a search warrant before investigating and

retrieving physical evidence at the crime scene(Saferstein 50).

In conclusion, as we can see through out this report, collection and recording

of a crime scene is very important, with out proper rules and special handling,

a criminal can go free. The purpose of crime scene investigations is to help

establish what happened, and to identify the responsible persons or victims. To

figure this out, careful recording and investigations of a crime scene must take

place. Recording the crime scene details such things as place, time, conditions,

lighting, fingerprints, evidence, etc. To record a crime scene such things as

videotape, still photography and sketches are used to give a story or time line

of what happened and what took place. Once the crime scene has been recorded,

actual inspection for physical evidence occurs. This is where the investigators

look for clues such as fingerprints, bloodstains, items or anything, which might

lead them towards a suspect. When gathering evidence, each item should be place

in separate containers and certain rules for blood stained clothes and fire

investigations apply. The investigators must keep tract and record everything in

which they recover from a crime scene. Searching a crime scene is a long and

thorough process, however, it will surrender many clues when done properly. Once

the evidence is found, recorded and packaged, it must be sent to a crime lab for

further processing. Each item when shipped should be recorded, logged and

accounted for from person to person so when used in a trial, the evidence has

been accounted for from beginning to end. The final thing investigators must

make sure is that all evidence was seized properly and with probable cause. This

is the main reason why in so many court cases evidence is thrown out, improper

searches and seizures. If any investigator is in doubt on whether or not a place

or person can be search, it is always best to obtain a warrant for that such



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