Collecting evidence to put the puzzle together
By Kotie Geldenhuys
Despite Hollywood’s portrayal in numerous television programmes, crime scene investigation is a difficult and time-consuming task that cannot be completed in a couple of minutes. Crime scene investigation should be done correctly and while paying attention to the detail from the start, as there is no such luxury as to continue with the processing of a crime scene for days on end. The purpose of crime scene investigation is to establish what happened when the crime was committed, to identify the responsible person by carefully documenting the conditions at a crime scene and recognising all relevant physical evidence. All of these elements can put together the puzzle so that justice can be served.
The success of an investigation depends on how thoroughly and meticulously the crime scene has been investigated. Crime scene investigation is a painstaking process which consists of various phases:
- The pre-investigation phase starts when the first police official arrives at the crime scene and it includes the walk-through phase.
- The investigation phase starts with the searching and documentation of the crime scene as well as the collection of evidence.
- The post-investigation phase is the finalisation of the crime scene search, including a final walk-through to determine whether all determined outcomes have been achieved and that all investigative processes have been completed. Thereafter the crime scene is released and handed back to the owner of the premises or responsible person and the process starts of analysing the evidence by a trained forensic expert (Lochner and Zinn, 2015).
According to Lochner, Horne and Zinn (2020), the objectives of crime scene investigation “is to systematically and carefully identify, recognise, recover, collect, interpret and reconstruct all the physical evidence, facts and clues available at the crime scene ... to ensure that the location of the evidence is accounted for from the scene to after the disposal of the evidence ... and to find the truth and to link or clear a suspect to a crime”.
Additional objectives of crime scene investigation include the determination of the modus operandi of the perpetrator, ascertaining the logical sequence of events, reconstruction of the crime scene and uncovering the motive of the crime among other things (Lochner et al, 2020).
Crime scene examination is the daunting task of trained crime scene examiners from the Criminal Record Centre (CRC) who, together with the investigating officer, usually only have one chance to identify and collect the material needed by the courts as evidence. It is unlikely to recover evidence later if it had not been identified and recovered during the initial investigation of the crime scene. Forensic evidence such as DNA or bullets, fibres, hairs or paint flakes, might be lost if it is not located soon after the crime has been committed (Phago, 2017).
Swanson, Chamelin, Territon and Taylor (2012) mention the following administrative procedures for crime scene processing:
- identification of physical evidence;
- documentation of evidence location through sketches and photographs;
- collection, marking and packaging of evidence; and
- establishing the chain of evidence or control during all stages of handling the evidence.