The concept of “Crime Scene Investigation”

Crime Scene Investigation: Understanding the purpose of Crime Scene; Examination, Investigation, Collection, Packing and Transportation of Physical Evidence; Chain of custody and Crime Scene Tools & Equipment.

What is a “Crime Scene”? 

“A scene of crime (occurrence) is the place where the crime is committed or those sites which are connected with the crime or where the evidence thereof is found. Crime scene is the place where the persons involved in the crime meet. They exchange traces with one another and with the scene, leave odds and ends and marks of tools, wearing apparels, tyres, hands, feet and other body parts.” [1] Crime scene or scene of crime refers to the place or places, where a particular crime has been committed or any evidence related to such a crime is found. A crime scene can be divided into the following segments:

  • Line of approach
  • Entry Point
  • Exit point
  • Actual scene
  • Line of retreat.

Crime scene can be classified into Indoor and Outdoor scene, with indoor crime referring to crime committed in a covered area, while outdoor scene refers to a crime which is committed in an open-air place. [2]

Purpose of “Crime Scene”  [3] Scene of occurrence provides a wealth of clue materials and other evidence which is useful for:

  • Establishingcorpus delicti. (body of the crime)
  • Linking the criminal, the victim and the scene of occurrence, inter se.
  • Evaluating the patterns of events.
  • Indicating modus operandi, sequence of events.
  • Helping reconstruction of the occurrence.
  • Finding the criminal(s), the victim and the evidence.
  • Finding the number and nature of the weapons.
  • Knowing the transport used.
  • Ascertaining the routes of ingress and egress.

The examination of the scene of occurrence should help to answer the following questions:

  • How did the criminal and the victim reach the scene?
  • What were the routes of entrance and exit?
  • How many criminals and victims were involved?
  • What was the “modus operandi”?
  • What evidence did the criminal and the victim exchange?
  • Is the alleged scene of occurrence genuine or simulated?
  • When was the crime committed?
  • Why did the victim behave in a particular way?
  • Who were the criminals or victims?
  • Whom did the criminal visit after the occurrence?

 Examination and Investigation of Physical Evidence

A crime scene is called the goldmine for physical evidence, and is helpful to identify the perpetrator, victim and establishing relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. Physical evidence may be defined as something legally submitted to a court of law as a means of determining the truth. Physical evidence deals with material objects (i.e. micro & macro). It simply denotes the material(s) either left or the material(s) present at the crime scene which are to be taken, preserved and sent to the laboratory for further examination and investigation. These may be left at the crime scene by the suspect or by the victim. These materials can be classified into impression, biological evidence, trace evidence, ballistics and documents. [4] One of the important objectives of collection of physical evidence is to establish that a crime has actually been committed, and to establish the identity of both victim and the perpetrator. If collected, preserved and examined properly and scientifically, physical evidence shows the truth, and as a result helps to either exonerate the innocent from the charge of crime, or helps to convict the real perpetrator of the crime. It is also helpful to find out whether the statement of a victim is true or false. Physical evidence has legal recognition, it can play a great role to determine the modus operandi (a manner of operating)in case of absence of direct or circumstantial evidence and for the administration of criminal justice. [5] Physical evidence plays a pivotal role in crime scene investigation. However its importance gets nullified if it is not collected and analyzed properly. In cases of heinous offences every possible item of physical evidence must be collected and preserved in a proper manner. Physical evidence generally refers to the items that come from a non-living origin. It includes fingerprints, tire marks, footprints, fibres, paint, building materials etc.

Collection of Physical Evidence [6] While collecting physical evidences, the searcher should be cautious and alert to every bit of evidence. He/She should take a slow and steady approach and should make sure that no physical evidence remains unattended.

For the purpose of collection of different physical evidences, the research can be conducted by:

  • Strip Method: The scene of crime is divided into strips of convenient width and each strip is examined, in turn, carefully.
  • Spiral Method: The search is started from the focal point of the scene and carried out in spiral pattern with increasing circumference till the whole of the crime scene is covered
  • Zone/Squad Method: The area which is to be searched is subdivided into several small zones/squads. Every zone/squad is assigned to a single searcher.
  • WheelMethod: This method is helpful when a circular area is to be searched. Searcher proceeds along with the radius of the circular area.
  • Cross-hatch Method: The search is carried out two dimensionally. First the scene is covered lengthwise (as in Strip Method) and then widthwise. It provides double examination of the same spot.

Packaging of Physical Evidence

Another important aspect of physical evidence is its packaging. It is of utmost importance because improper packaging may lead to unwanted modifications/alterations which result in the decrease of the evidentiary value of such physical evidence in a court of law. One should make sure that while packaging of physical evidence, he/she should not modify/alter/degrade/depreciate its value/condition. The evidence should be tagged in such a way that it stays in the same exact condition in which it was found and collected.

Among other things, the following guidelines [7]should be adopted during collection and packaging of physical evidences:-

  • Every physical evidence should be packed separately.
  • Contaminations of any kind should be prevented.
  • Note of identity of every patent article should be maintained along with the chain of custody report.

Transportation, storage and submission of evidence to the laboratory [8] To be useful to the case, the evidence that is recovered at the scene must ultimately reach a forensic laboratory in a way that maintains its integrity and identity. Adequate conditions would avoid degradation of evidence during the transport and storage. Secured access during transportation and storage will prevent any unauthorized access and possible tampering or loss of evidence.

Transportation and storage is the last phase of the crime scene investigation process and it aims at selecting the means of transportation and storage that are appropriate for the type of physical evidence to ensure the integrity of evidence submitted to the laboratory. Once physical evidence is recovered, the decision for further examinations in the laboratory has to be taken. Items more likely to provide information that will assist the investigation and/or those most likely to provide good analytical results, typically receive priority for submission to the forensic laboratory. Early involvement of laboratory personnel facilitates this decision. Once decided, the transportation to the laboratory or to an intermediate storage location prior to examination of the evidence is a crucial step. Adequate conditions, e.g. a cool and dry place, and secured and controlled access are essential characteristics of transport and storage conditions. Also the costs, distance, timeframe and possible incompatibility between some evidence and some means of transportation are aspects to be considered when choosing how to relocate and store the evidence. The relocation of some type of physical evidence, e.g. drugs and firearms, may also require following existing local regulations. Documentation of transportation, storage and hand-over to the laboratory is important. A written receipt is usually issued for all evidence submitted to the laboratory. Physical evidence might have to be kept for many years, for instance, until the case has been adjudicated and all appeals exhausted. In those situations, a policy on long-term storage of exhibits is important and should be established and published, if it does not exist.

Chain of Custody

It is a well-established fact that the chain of custody is an important procedure within the process of physical evidence collection and transmission to the laboratory for analysis etc. Its importance was recognized in as early as 1994, at the Lahore High Court, wherein the Hon’ble High Court stated that, “Chain of custody indicates a set of record of every physical evidence from the point of discovery to submission in laboratory to the final day position at the court of law”. Chain of custody contains vital information on Source of recovery, Place of recovery, Date and time of recovery and who recovered it.

It is necessary to forward the crime scene exhibits to the Forensic Science Laboratory with the requisite permission from the court of law for the benefit of administration of justice. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that [9]“For the sake of investigation police can send an object lying with the court for analysis. A report by the Director of Forensic Science Laboratory/Central Forensic Science Laboratory, duly signed and stamped should be procured which should be made available to the court.”

Tools and Equipment at the Crime Scene

All such materials and equipment which are useful for recording the crime scene, making a sketch of it and collecting physical evidence should be carried during a crime scene investigation. It includes the following kits:

Foot Print Kit: it is required for recording, collecting and lifting footprints from the crime scene. It generally contains

  • An Acrylic Sheet
  • A Cellulose tri acetate sheet
  • An Aluminum frame
  • A Plastic Bucket
  • Plaster of Paris
  • A Liquid Shellac Container
  • A Glass Marking Pencil
  • Photo Bromide Paper
  • A Spoon
  • Common Salt
  • A Wire Mesh
  • A Plastic Mug

Photography Kit: it is required for photographing the crime scene for all evidences that are seen/observed and obtained all over on the scene. It generally contains:

  • A 35mm Camera
  • A Lens Hood
  • A Tripod Stand
  • 35mm Film Rolls
  • An Electronic Flash Gun
  • A Measuring Scale

Blood Examination Kit: It is required for detecting blood and the evidences related to it. It contains:

  • Hydrogen Peroxide Solution
  • Benzedrine Solution
  • Filter Paper Packet
  • Surgical Cotton
  • Surgical Gauge

Finger Print Kit: It is required for developing and lifting finger prints from the crime scene as well as collecting finger prints from the suspects. It generally contains:

  • Thumb Impression Ink
  • A Glass Slab
  • An Ink Roller
  • A Finger Print Slip
  • A Camel Hairbrush
  • An Ostrich Hairbrush
  • Black Powder
  • Universal Grey Powder
  • A Roll of lifting tape
  • An Iodine Fumes Gun
  • An Atomizer
  • A Pair of Glasses
  • Plastic Powder Carrying Dish

Sketching Kit: It is required for making a sketch of the crime scene. It generally contains:

  • A Compass
  • A White Paper
  • A Wooden Board and some Board Clips
  • A Pencil
  • An Eraser

Packaging Kit: It is required for packing the physical evidence from the crime scene and generally contains:

  • A Hammer
  • Pliers
  • Screw Drivers
  • A Saw
  • A Triangular File
  • Nuts and Bolts
  • A pair of Scissors
  • Forceps and a Pair of Tongs

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[1] Page 253, Forensic Science in Criminal Investigation & Trials by B.R. Sharma

[2] Page 465, Medical Jurisprudence, Toxicology & Forensic Science for classroom, investigation & Court Room with Case Laws by Prof. (Dr.) A.S. Deoskar

[3] Page 35 & 36, Forensic Science & Law by Sarita Jand

[4] Page 465, Medical Jurisprudence, Toxicology & Forensic Science for classroom, investigation & Court Room with Case Laws by Prof. (Dr.) A.S. Deoskar

[5] Page 466, Medical Jurisprudence, Toxicology & Forensic Science for classroom, investigation & Court Room with Case Laws by Prof. (Dr.) A.S. Deoskar

[6] Page 267 & 268, Forensic Science in Criminal Investigation & Trials by B.R. Sharma

[7] Page 469, Medical Jurisprudence, Toxicology & Forensic Science for classroom, investigation & Court Room with Case Laws by Prof. (Dr.) A.S. Deoskar

[8] Page 15, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes’ report titled “Crime scene and physical evidence awareness for non-forensic personnel”.

[9] AIR 1979 SC 1791

-Tushar Kaushik

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