fatal mistakes

Not Controlling the Crime Scene

By: Joseph L. Giacalone

During any homicide investigation there are many things that can go wrong. You don’t get a second chance to do it right. This isn’t the playground where you can scream “Do over!” However, some mistakes can be avoided altogether through careful planning, supervision and the ability to apply some common sense. I will highlight the “Fatal Mistakes” in a series of blog posts so that others can avoid them.

Not controlling the crime scene is the most detrimental of all. If law enforcement makes this Fatal Error, game over. In today’s investigative practices, this cannot be stressed enough. However, we still see issues of crime scene contamination due to a lack of restraint with personnel at the scene. Juries demand to see forensic evidence these days in the courtroom and “know” all about proper techniques from watching their favorite television shows. If they don’t know, you can be assured that the defense attorney will school them.

The best practice in any criminal investigation is to avoid making mistakes at all cost. However, we are human and are prone to mistakes. However, there are some that can be avoided just be reminding investigators. Consider this your reminder.

When an investigator arrives at the scene of a major incident, after recording the date and time of their arrival, the very next thing is to determine if a “Gatekeeper” has been assigned to secure the scene. If not, they should immediately seek out the nearest supervisor and request one.

The Gatekeeper’s role is to prevent unauthorized access to the scene by maintaining a chronological list (Crime Scene Log) of who entered and why. This list is important on many levels. First, it prevents people from entering the scene that shouldn’t, second it keeps record of those that do, so if elimination samples must be taken, we know who to get them from and third, the control of the crime scene is a reflection of how the rest of the investigation was. If it is chaotic and sloppy, the defense attorney will paint it and you that way.

Proper crime scene management can provide overwhelming evidence in the case, but a lack of it provides reasonable doubt. The defense attorney will often have nothing more to attack in the case other than the investigation and the investigator.

Remember, you don’t get a second chance to do it right the first time.