CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Reid on Crime Scene Evidence Collection

Melanie Reid (Lincoln Memorial University - Duncan School of Law) has posted A CSI Story: The Past, Present, and Future of Crime Scene Collection and What Litigators Need to Know (Wake Forest Journal of Law & Policy, Vol. 8, Issue 2 (2018)) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published a report criticizing much of the forensic science analysis conducted in crime labs throughout the country. The NAS recommended forensic disciplines “develop rigorous protocols to guide these subjective interpretations” to ensure reliability. However, the NAS gave little mention or guidance for crime scene investigators (CSIs). These CSIs are vital to solving any criminal case, and their strengths, weaknesses, and the protocols they follow must be identified and evaluated. This article examines the evolution of crime scene management by evaluating the forensic science (or lack thereof) from a murder trial that occurred in 1840 and the evidence collection in the O.J. Simpson criminal case in 1994. It is now standard practice to use physical evidence as corroborative proof to support other evidence that connects a suspect to a victim or a crime scene. This article addresses the importance of the CSI’s testimony and how it may evolve.
CSIs are essential members of any law enforcement investigative team. Prosecutors must initially decide whether CSIs should be considered expert or lay witnesses and then take the time to thoroughly debrief and prepare them for trial. Defense attorneys must familiarize themselves with the particular protocols followed by a CSI’s department and take the time to prepare effective cross-examination questions. Similar to the decision by the NAS to improve and critique forensic science techniques used in laboratories, there is a comparable need to establish professional standards for evaluating evidence collection protocols. Uniformity in terms, protocol, and training is paramount. CSIs should not be called merely to testify when chain of custody issues are raised at trial. Rather, CSIs go to the heart of whether a piece of evidence is or is not admissible.

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