Find out more about what steps to follow when responding to a crime scene, how DNA evidence can be accessed, and what rights police officers have at a crime scene.
The behaviour of the first person in attendance at a crime scene is crucial to ensure the preservation of valuable evidence and information. Quick assessment and action can help to ensure that evidence is protected, which can be later used during an investigation. Let’s take a closer look.
What Is A Crime Scene?
It is crucial for police officers to understand what constitutes a crime scene to be able to search, gather and preserve evidence for a case. The first moments can be critical, mainly if there is a risk that the crime is still in progress.
The Law Enforcement Act states that a crime scene can be established when a police officer reasonably suspects that it is necessary. There is only one opportunity to recover and preserve evidence from the crime scene, which will be eventually used to guide the course of justice. It is therefore vital to understand what actions should be taken.
Under the crimes act 1900, to protect or preserve evidence, if a police officer suspects a person is removing or interfering with evidence at a crime scene, they are permitted to access or enter a place, control people’s movement, and detain or frisk the individual.
Steps To Follow When Responding To A Crime Scene
As a first responder to a crime scene, it is crucial to follow appropriate guidelines. A quick assessment of the situation and fast action can ensure the public’s safety and can protect valuable evidence.
Before assessing the scene for victims needing urgent medical assistance, a first responder must first ensure that the location is safe. As well as locating and stabilising any pathogens or hazardous airborne substances, it is also crucial to identify all potential hazards such as flammable materials like fuel to maintain the safety of the crime scene, police officers and victims involved. Ensure that safety procedures are used when handling dangerous materials.
The next step, which should be a priority, is to assess the victims’ injuries and arrange for medical assistance.
Preserve The Scene
Bystanders, medical personnel and law enforcement officers mustn’t inadvertently contaminate the crime scene. Some steps can be taken to ensure that the area is preserved and to prevent a person from interfering with the crime scene.
- The first person should secure the area, establish a pathway for essential personnel with yellow tape, allowing separate entrance and exit areas
- Limit the access to the scene to essential people only
- Do not move or replace any objects within the crime scene area unless it is evidence
- Maintain the temperature of the area, do not adjust the heating or cooling or open windows or doors that were initially closed
- Evidence comes in many forms, including odours. It is vital to maintain the environment as close as possible, particularly if canines are required for the investigation. Therefore no smoking is allowed at the scene
- Do not use any items at the crime scene, such as bins or bathrooms
- Be aware of bystanders who may compromise significant evidence
When collecting samples, careful examination of the entire crime scene is required, as small traces such as shoe prints, tyre marks, shell casings, hair, or DNA can help identify a criminal.
A fundamental rule at a crime scene is never to interfere or hinder the course of justice. Tampering with evidence is a crime. It is therefore crucial that only trained technicians handle physical evidence. When collecting evidence from crime scenes, the technician must follow the correct procedure for collection and storage to ensure that the evidence can be used in an investigation. They should;
- Preserve the clothing of the victim, including areas with bullet holes or knife tears
- If emergency medical professionals need to remove clothing, they should cut through clean areas of the fabric
- When dealing with alleged sexual assault victims, limit the removal of clothing and do not clean the skin as examiners will need to collect samples from the fingers, nails and face of the victim
- Take photos of the victim’s clothing and appearance, which may prove helpful in a trial
- Examiners and all personnel should avoid stepping in blood or other fluids to maintain the integrity of the forensic materials
Every detail gathered at the initial scene may become helpful during an investigation and possible prosecution at a later stage.
The first police officer on the scene plays a vital role, and it is their responsibility to take notes and document the scene and environment as best as possible. Some important things to include are;
- The temperature of the environment
- Odours or other scents
- Make a record of any open doors, windows and lighting
- Any evidence of forced entry should be noted
- Document arrival and departure information of all personnel, including medical and police
- Statements should be factual, precise and accurate. Use quotation marks when documenting what a victim or witness says
- Positions of bodies should be recorded as well as blood and bloody footprints
- To obtain testimony from a person who was seriously injured, consider having a police officer ride in the ambulance with the victim, as it may be the only opportunity to obtain vital information
All officers at the crime scene should record their observations in a comprehensive police report.
Generally, DNA samples are stored long term, but if an offence occurred before DNA technology was available, there is no guarantee that the samples have been retained.
To obtain access to evidence, a prisoner will need to follow procedures outlined by the National Association of Testing Authorities Australia (NATA) requirements and apply to the local police service or Director of Public prosecution.
The circumstances when a person may wish to access original crime scene DNA samples to help overturn their conviction can include;
- If the conviction occurred before the availability of DNA technology
- More sophisticated DNA technology has since become available
- Analysis and testing of DNA did not happen, nor was it introduced as evidence at trial
- The defence did not question the quality, nature, presentation or probability of the DNA evidence during the trial
If their initial access to samples has been denied, they can request access via a court order. When all avenues have been exhausted, they can try an administrative law proceeding.
New South Wales Innocence Panel
In New South Wales, an administrative body known as the Innocence panel has been established to assist people who have been convicted of a crime who believe DNA analysis may help prove their innocence.
A prisoner may require access to DNA samples decades after the offence occurred. The Crimes Act does not specify a minimum period for storing samples from a crime scene. Samples must be retained for a sufficient period, so people can access the evidence to help prove their innocence.
There is only one opportunity to recover and preserve evidence from a crime scene, which can be used later in an investigation. Police should understand what actions should be taken, and as a first responder to a crime scene, it is crucial to follow appropriate guidelines. A quick assessment of the situation and fast action can ensure the public’s safety and protect valuable evidence.
Before assessing the scene for victims needing urgent medical assistance, a first responder must first ensure that the location is safe and mitigate any risk of harm. They are also responsible for identifying all potential hazards, such as flammable materials.
People mustn’t inadvertently contaminate the crime scene. Steps can be taken to ensure the area is preserved, such as limiting the access to essential personnel, securing the site, and maintaining the environment as much as possible.
When collecting evidence from crime scenes, the correct manner for collection and storage must be maintained. To ensure that evidence can be used in an investigation, they must follow a strict procedure.
Every detail gathered at the initial scene may become helpful during an investigation and possible conviction at a later stage.
The first police officer on the scene plays a vital role and should take notes and document the scene and environment as best as possible. Following procedure can essentially mean the difference between conviction and acquittal in a court case.