Crime scene reconstruction and staging
Crime scene reconstruction and staging (Forensic Science)
Criminal investigation is a systematic fact-finding endeavor that involves numerous professionals with special expertise and training. Law-enforcement officers arrive at the scene in response to a report that a crime has been committed. Their job is to preserve and protect the crime scene. Criminalists collect physical evidence at the crime scene and deliver that evidence to the laboratory. Crime scene investigators or detectives scour the scene for evidence, ask witnesses questions, and track leads concerning possible suspects. Laboratory scientists analyze and test physical evidence from the scene. In homicide cases, forensic pathologists perform autopsies to ascertain the manner and cause of death. The work of all of these professionals lays the groundwork for crime scene reconstruction.
Criminal investigations must adhere to a deliberate process. Physical evidence is carefully collected, handled, transported, and preserved for the purpose of solving a crime and bringing the offender to justice. Failure to protect the integrity of the evidence can render it inadmissible in court. Notwithstanding its importance, physical evidence, by itself, might not be enough to close a criminal case. Discrete bits of evidence must be properly collated and placed in a context to be useful in the arrest, prosecution, and conviction of offenders.
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Reconstructing Crime Scenes (Forensic Science)
Crime scenes are locations where illegal acts have been committed and physical evidence is found. Crime scenes can be categorized as primary, secondary, or tertiary. For example, an offender may kidnap a victim from her home (a primary crime scene) and transport her by car (a secondary crime scene) to another location (a tertiary crime scene), where the offender murders her. The place where the offender disposes of the victim’s body is yet another tertiary crime scene. Crime scenes thus include any indoor or outdoor locations that afford opportunities for the recovery of direct physical evidence of crimes. Connecting the activities and establishing the nature and sequence of events within and among those scenes is the essence of crime scene reconstruction.
Crime scene reconstruction is a methodology that is used to re-create the events of a crime, including the course of actions that unfolded immediately before, during, and after the incident. Forensic scientists reconstruct a crime scene by examining and interpreting physical evidence as well as the physical layout of the location. Reconstruction begins with the gathering of data from the scene; in the case of homicide, these may include data on blood spatter, gunshot residue, bullet trajectories, and objects from which DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) evidence can be collected. In a homicide case, the positioning and condition of the victim’s body can also yield...
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Crime Scene Staging (Forensic Science)
The possibility that a crime scene has been staged is another important consideration in crime scene reconstruction and analysis. Staging is a deliberate attempt to thwart or confuse crime scene investigators by rearranging the crime scene. In one type of staging, the offender modifies the elements of the crime scene to make the offense appear as a suicide or an accident. Crime scene investigators must be careful in accepting evidence at face value. For example, a man found in his apartment with a fatal bullet wound in his head and gun in his right hand might not be a suicide victim. Detailed investigation may lead to the conclusion that the case is, in fact, a homicide, as evidenced by the angle of the exit wound, the gunshot residue on the victim’s hand, the nature of the wound, the distance of the shell casings from the gun and the body, and the type of gun used in the crime. Crime investigators must be skeptical and methodical in their efforts to explore all possible aspects of a crime scene in order to differentiate between the actual events of the crime and any likely staging of the scene.
In another type of staging, serial killers position physical evidence and victims’ bodies to humiliate, punish, and degrade victims and taunt the police. Some serial killers compulsively leave psychological markers, known as signatures, at their crime scenes. These can include posing the victims’ bodies or concealing or...
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Further Reading (Forensic Science)
Clemens, Daryl W. “Introduction to Crime Scene Reconstruction.” MAFS Newsletter 27 (April, 1998). Discusses the differences between crime scene reconstruction and criminal profiling. Also describes different types of reconstruction techniques, the steps in the reconstruction process, and how criminal profiling and crime scene reconstruction complement each other in helping investigators understand how and why crimes are committed.
Gardner, Ross M. Practical Crime Scene Processing and Investigation. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2005. Thoroughly illustrates and explains the importance of each step in a criminal investigation. Outstanding chapter titled “The Role of Crime Scene Analysis and Reconstruction” explicates the methodology of crime scene investigation and enumerates the steps in event analysis. Includes vivid photographs and sketches from crime scenes to illustrate the various stages of the reconstruction process.
Geberth, Vernon J. “The Homicide Crime Scene.” In Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures, and Forensic Techniques. 4th ed. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2006. Describes the different types of crime scene staging and presents examples of actual crimes in which the scenes were staged in a section headed “The Staged Crime Scene.” Written by a former commander for the Bronx Homicide Division of the New York City Police Department.
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