July 1, 2010, a 911 dispatcher notified officers that bodies were found at 401 S. Rose Street in Wilson, NC. Immediately, local police officers were sent to the scene. Upon arrival, the officers go (went) inside to view the scene. Two bodies were brutally murdered. (<
First, what is the definition of a crime scene? According to retired Lieutenant Foster (2010), a crime scene is a person, place or thing where evidence shows a crime has occurred or exists (Foster, 2010). Crime scenes are different; yet there are basic principles and rules officers can follow when being first responders or crime scene investigators. When officers are dispatched to a crime scene, they should think of it as their only opportunity to ensure evidence is collected correctly, as well as any search and seizures are done legally.
One of the primary duties of first responders is to take notes, secure and provide safety of the scene, call for medical attention, as well as ensure evidence is not tampered or altered with.
Safety is the first responder’s most important priority. Officers should look around the area for any materials such as gas, (did you mean gas leaks?) weapons or persons which would endanger other law enforcement personnel. First responders should also act as crowd controllers. They should ensure the scene is free of dangerous persons, as well as keep all press and witnesses safe and secured. After the scene is safe and secure, another duty is note taking (Department of Justice, Crime Scene Investigation, 2000).
Officers should note where the bodies are, how they are positioned, as well as any other items which seem out of place. They should also note where evidence is located and take accurate notes of the distance of evidence from any bodies on the scene. Ensuring the evidence is not contaminated or moved, as well as including the location, time of the call should be included in their notes. Persons arriving or leaving the crime scene should also be observed and noted by officers. Once the scene is safe, the next important duty at the crime scene is to provide any medical attention if necessary (Department of Justice, Crime Scene Investigation, 2000).
Sometimes, not all victims in crime scenes are deceased. When arriving to a crime scene if the victims are alive, but injured, it is the first responder’s duty to provide medical attention. If medical attention is needed at the scene, it is the officer’s duty to guide the medical team to be sure nothing is tampered with or contaminated. In other words, officers should show how the medical team will handle any evidence on the person, or even clothing on the victim requiring medical attention. Officers are responsible to ensure the medical team does not contaminate or alter the evidence. Once medical attention is given, if the victim has to be taken to a hospital, an officer should accompany the transporting medical team. The officer should note the medical team’s names, the company they work for, as well as the name and location of the hospital they are being taking too. Once the officer has completed these duties, they can turn over the crime scene to any investigators or other law enforcement officers if required (Department of Justice, Crime Scene Investigation, 2000).
Turning over a crime scene to an investigator or other law enforcement officer, the first responder has to provide an accurate summary of everything noted and accomplished at the crime scene when they arrived. After the first responder provides the brief, they should turn over all notes and evidence to the investigators. The accurate information noted and provided by the first responders will be preserved so it can be used in the trial once the suspect is caught (Department of Justice, Crime Scene Investigation, 2000).
One thing to remember is although first responders and crime scene investigators could be the same person, sometimes they are not. When crime scene investigators or truth seekers arrive on the scene, their duties are just as important as the first responders.
Crime scene investigators will obtain all notes by the first responders, and assess the scene themselves. Investigators should also note if search and seizure warrants are needed, as well as locate secure areas to set up any equipment needed by the investigative team. Once those duties are complete, investigators are to set up and brief the initial team members who will be assisting in the crime scene. After the team is established, the investigators continue to ensure contamination is under control, documenting where the evidence is located, and note how the crime scene looks (Department of Justice, Crime Scene Investigation, 2000).
When evidence is collected, investigators are responsible for sorting and grouping the evidence into groups. These groups outline pieces of evidence likely to get lost or destroyed if proper evidence procedures are not followed. Once the evidence is grouped, the next duty is to collect, create an inventory list, as well as move the evidence to any crime lab or storage facility for testing or later submission into trial (Department of Justice, Crime Scene Investigation, 2000).
As we have discussed, there are several duties the first responders and investigators must do to ensure the crime scene is handled appropriately. One example of why their duties are so important involves a mass murder crime in Memphis, TN.
According to Johnson (2010), nine people were gruesomely murdered in TN. When the case went to trial, one of the most important testimonies was from a first responder on the scene. While on the stand, the first responder testified to observations they saw or smelled, such as smelling blood in the air. They also testified to observing and noting the mutilated bodies with knives in their skull. Next, the first responder explained how they accounted for people on the scene. When this duty was completed, the first responder discovered a survivor; a nine year old girl, in a bathtub. The Memphis case tells just how important the duties of first responders are upon arrival to crime scenes. The observations, people accountability, safety precautions, and evidence protection strongly help aid prosecutors when the case goes to trial (Johnson, 2010). Imagine what could happen if first responders did not have duties or follow proper procedures as a crime scene – a case such as the Ratcliffe Highway Murders could result.
The Ratcliffe murders occurred in 1811 in Britain. At the time, the country had a police force, but no first responder duties or procedures. When the crime occurred, citizens were allowed to assist in the investigation with no formal training whatsoever. When the officer arrived on the scene, the officer observed and moved evidence around. Later, the bodies were moved to allow the public to view them. No duties or rules were ever considered arriving on the scene. The crime scene was not preserved, safe, nor was the evidence properly accounted for. Cases such as this one, although it was long ago, remind one of how important the roles of first responders, as well as preserving a crime scene are (Ramsland, 2011).
According to the Department of Justice, several duties of first responders and crime scene investigators are noted in this paper. However, retired Lieutenant Raymond Foster noted there are a few more important fundamentals when securing a crime scene as well. According to Foster (2011), one very important fundamental is to secure the “Hot Zone.” A “hot zone”, according to Foster, is the location where evidence resides regarding the crime. In order to secure the “hot zone,” the first responder needs to set up crime scene tape to ensure only law enforcement officials have access to the scene. The crime scene tape also allows other officials to know where the evidence resides as well. Another fundamental is the Transfer Theory. One of the first, Dr. Locard, developed this theory. The Transfer Theory, otherwise known as the Exchange Principle, states whenever more than one object contacts another object, they both leave or take something with them. For example, the offender could leave DNA or latent prints at the crime scene, but take with them fibers from carpets and soil. Based on Dr. Locard’s theory, it is important first responders put up crime scene tape in order to secure the location of evidence. Finally, another important fundamental outlined by Foster (2011) is known as the “Golden Hour.” The “golden hour” states the first few hours of a crime scene investigation are the most important. Why? The quicker first responders can follow up on clues or witnesses, the better; as it is fresh in their memory. As Foster (2011) states, “First responders often set the stage for the final outcome” (Foster, 2011).
We have discussed several duties of the first responders. However, before any searches, seizures or warrants are issued, the first responder has to remember the 4th Amendment when arriving to a crime scene.
The Fourth Amendment states people have the right to be secure at home, secure with any papers on their person, or in their home. The Fourth Amendment also forbids search and seizures which are not reasonable; nor allows warrants to be issued without having probable cause. Basically, the Fourth Amendment allows people to have a right to privacy and free of any invasions (Cornell University Law School, Fourth Amendment). If, searches and evidence are obtained illegally, violating the Fourth Amendment, then the exclusionary rule comes in. The exclusionary rule is a foundation, or a base to the Fourth Amendment. If evidence or searches are performed illegally, the exclusionary rule does not allow the evidence or search results to be admitted into the trial (Exclusionary Rule, The Free Dictionary).
For example, Thompson v. Louisiana, 469 U.S. 17; officers arrived to a scene where a wife tried to commit suicide, left a suicide note, then killed her husband. The woman was unconscious when officers arrived to the scene and was transported to the hospital. While she was being transported, the officers, without a warrant, did a complete search and retrieved evidence, such as the pistol used to shoot her husband. The woman was charged with second degree murder and the case went to trial. Because officers did not obtain a warrant, or follow the Fourth Amendment, the evidence seized was not admissible. This case is a good example of why first responders, regardless of a suicide attempt, should ensure they follow the Fourth Amendment when conducting a search and seizure (Justia.com, Thompson v. Louisiana 2011). The search and evidence collected is extremely important and must not violate the persons Fourth Amendment rights.
Another example is Mincey v. Arizona 437 US 395 (1978). Mincey was a defendant who dealt drugs and shot an undercover officer during a raid. The first responder secured the scene and informed the homicide division. The Homicide division completed a search and seized several items as evidence. However, although the defendant was charged with murder, and found guilty, the Supreme Court ruled the conviction must be overturned as their Fourth Amendment rights were violated – the homicide division conducted a search and seizure and obtained evidence without a search warrant. Although the crime scene was a homicide scene, the Fourth Amendment rights are still enforced; there is no exception when the crime is a homicide (Geberth, 2003).
In conclusion, we have discussed just how important the role and duties of first responders are; whether the crime scene is a robbery or a homicide. The first responders must secure and ensure the crime scene is safe. Not only is security and safety of the crime scene important, but so is ensuring the Fourth Amendment is followed. As time moves on, technological advances become more dominant. Crimes such as cyber stalking, the CraigList killer are “new age” scenes when securing a crime scene and collecting evidence. Why? Although evidence is on computers or cell phones, the Fourth Amendment and crime scene procedures still must be followed. The first responders have several rules and duties they must follow when securing crime scenes. These rules and duties, when not followed could impact the case and have convictions overturned.