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Unquestionably, one of the most important criminal scenes to which a detective can be called is the scene of a homicide. The only realization of "What has happened?" may only come after a careful and thoughtful examination of the crime scene and after a rather expert and medical assessment of the various bits and pieces of evidence gathered by the detective due to the nature of the crimes in such cases, whether by death or unnatural causes. These "bits and pieces" may take the shape of trace evidence found at the crime site, different statements made by the suspect there, firsthand accounts from eyewitnesses, or results of post-mortem examinations. A homicide investigation is relatively
a highly professional and specialized undertaking that calls for proper experience practically in addition to continuous training (Swanson, Chamelin, Territo, & Taylor, 2002). Nevertheless, a homicide investigation is not the exclusive purview of a detective. A fruitful homicide investigation usually relies on the first actions that a police officer responding to a crime scene takes.
Assessing the Scene
In the case of a reported homicide, the first thing a detective should do after arriving at the scene is to validate the state of the victim and after which he should assure that the “primary crime scene” is undamaged. Chiefly, this action is done so as to ensure that the responsibility of the first officer at a crime scene which is to guarantee a crime scene’s protection, is reinforced. It should be noted that this is in most cases accomplished in the course of the primary “walk-through” as the first officer at the crime scene should be asked to provide all the information that he has discovered following his coming and in the course of his crime scene protection phase. This primary “walk through” is important as it equips the detective with a logic of the incident at hand. Before the “walk through” the detective should do everything possible to stop and get a closer look at the entire area, carefully noting anything possible before getting to enter the exact crime scene for further comprehensive inspection. The main reason for this process is to try to create an outline of the surrounding area and create room for a recall of similar conditions and situations that the detective has in the past encountered (Lyman, 2001). Failing to include the “walk through” in the investigation process will make the detective to be unable to assess both the scene of crime and the surrounding areas which is aimed at establishing the constancies and discrepancies that are significant to the direction of investigating a crime, “chain of custody” of any piece of evidence retrieved in the course of protecting a crime scene, the existence of any delicate piece of evidence that can call for instant collection, and any other area that may have need of protection.
2. Manage the Scene and Canvass the Area
The detective will make first assignments, file any observations, and work with a guard to try and figure a command post freestanding the scene of the crime. Here, the detective is supposed to assign an officer present at the scene to record and file every single individual present at the scene, carefully noting the exact time they left the scene and the things they did. The officer tasked with recording is also supposed to allow individuals who are needed to enter the scene and give them the direction in and out of the scene. The officer should ensure that such individuals use a single path while doing so.
The detective will organize for the canvassing of the area through the use of any available resource. Every person involved in canvassing should cover both the area where the crime took place and any other scenes that might have been established, for instance, the exact place that the victim and suspect initially met and where the knife used in the crime is located. The detective will require a personnel to go door to door in the entire apartment with the aim of locating and identifying witnesses. This should be carried out despite the fact that the suspect is present at the scene of the crime. Getting to locate and identify witnesses is important as it aids in establishing and eradicating possible suspects (Greenwood, & Petersilia, 2005). It should not be forgotten that the primary observations made by a detective concerning the scene help in establishing the outline of the entire investigation besides identifying possible sources of “scene contamination” and the position of evidentiary objects that might be later lost, soiled, or tainted.
As a detective, it is important to remember that the suspect at the scene of the crime is granted all the rights to which he is eligible. The detective should do the following on the suspect:
• Try advising the suspect of his rights before carrying out the questioning
• Do not permit the suspect to wash his hands or change his clothes as this might end up destroying traces of evidence available
• If necessary, try seizing the clothing of the suspect and provide him with other clothing
• Record, document and videotape, if possible, all statements that the suspect makes
• The detective should stop questioning the suspect if he asks for an attorney but if in any case a prosecuting attorney is present, have him or her to eyewitness the questioning and assist in formulating the scope of the questioning.
This phase is important in trying to find firsthand information from the alleged suspect himself without having to rely on assumptions. These accounts from the suspect will at the very end help in finding the truth as far as the homicide is concerned. Proper handling of possible suspects in homicide cases does minimize legal barricades to a fruitful trial (Gilbert, 2000). Failure to do this will make the investigation process to be undesirably longer and in most cases, the detectives involved in such cases will fail to find the truth.
4. Scene Processing and Notification
The detective is then supposed to arrange for a comprehensive crime scene exploration and make permanent historical records of the scene and every single action that is taken. The steps for crime scene processing may include the taking of photographs or video of the overall scene, carrying an exhaustive crime scene search; creating a rough sketch, meting out the scene for underlying fingerprints; finding, documenting, collecting and controlling any trace of evidence available. Exhaustive searching and documentation of a crime scene are important as it tends to reflect the detective’s competence and is one of the key factors that determine how a successful trial is gained and how a case is closed.
Having to identify the victim promptly can help a detective in notifying the victim’s next of kin and establish clues and suspect information by backpedaling the activities of the victim (O'Hara & O'Hara, 2006). Promptly notifying the next of kin acts as a caring gesture and may further the process of search.
In conclusion, it is true to say that the first officer at the scene of the crime and the detective are usually faced with crimes of extreme severity. Homicides entail several likely drives and methods plus a diversity of kinds of physical evidence. As explained, proper and professional handling of a “homicide crime scene” by authorities help in determining the manner in which a crime case is handled, furthers the process of investigation, and plays a pivotal role in how the case will be closed.
Gilbert, J. (2000). Criminal investigation. Prentice Hall.
Greenwood, P. W., & Petersilia, J. (2005). The criminal investigation process, Volume I: Summary and policy implications. Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation.
Lyman, M. D. (2001). Criminal investigation: The art and the science. Prentice Hall.
O'Hara, C. E., & O'Hara, G. L. (2006). Fundamentals of criminal investigation (p. 99). Springfield, IL: Thomas.
Swanson, C. R., Chamelin, N. C., Territo, L., & Taylor, R. W. (2002). Criminal investigation (p. 53). McGraw-Hill.
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