Monday, 25 May 2015 18:56
on May 25th, 2015 at 7:27 PM
PROPER USE OF THE LEGAL SYSTEM IN FICTION
After an extended (and unintentional) blogging absence, I’ve returned with a series on criminal legal processes. These entries will offer some guidance to writers who wish to include criminal proceedings in their writing and to do so with a degree of accuracy.
As a disclaimer, I would like you to keep in mind that this will all be based upon Illinois criminal law. The exact terms and procedures may vary from state to state. Chicago may also be a bit different, as the Illinois Legislature has passed a number of laws that specifically exempt (or only apply to) Chicago. The federal system is a whole different beast, but I intend to touch on that as well. With all that in mind, let’s dive right in.
Monday, 20 October 2014 18:44
on October 20th, 2014 at 7:50 PM
After a much-needed hiatus, I have returned to revisit the topic of fingerprints. If you recall from my earlier entries on the subject, we discussed what makes up a fingerprint, how they form, biologically speaking, on your skin, and the various methods we have for developing them. In this entry, we’ll get more into the technical side, showing how a fingerprint identification is actually made. If you’re writing a crime novel, or any novel involving fingerprints, a basic understanding of these principles will give your book a greater sense of realism.
As I mentioned in the first entry in this series, fingerprints are divided into three primary groups: loops, whorls, and arches. Each of those groups has its own subsets, but for the most part the subsets have fallen into disuse. They were important up until the last decade or two, because they helped eliminate prints from consideration. At that time, fingerprints were named based upon the type, the subset, and a numeric identification that had to do with the number of friction ridges between certain identifying features (deltas, cores, and so on). But now, with the advent of computerized fingerprint comparisons, the importance of the subsets has faded.
Monday, 18 August 2014 19:15
I was trying to decide what aspect of fingerprints I should cover as the next part of my continuing series of crime scene blogs when Rick reminded me that I had promised some information about the study of blood spatter patterns. So without further ado, let’s dive right in.
In many violent crimes where blood spatter patterns are present, there aren’t any living witnesses to the crime who can tell us about the sequence of events. It falls to the investigator to study the signs and determine exactly what happened. Much like Aragorn in Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings, a trained investigator can take a series of signs and use them to reconstruct the crime.
Sunday, 13 July 2014 12:48
on June 30th, 2014 at 8:31 PM
In the previous six installments of my police investigation series, I focused primarily on the investigation at death scenes for five of them. I covered a number of aspects of these cases, including how we determine if a death is accidental, murder, suicide, or natural. I examined ways to estimate how long it has been since the person’s death, and I covered the procedures we follow for each situation.
In a post three months ago (4/7/2014) I did “Forensic Fun with Fingerprints” (the Part 1 of this Part 2). At this point, I would like to go into more detail about the science of fingerprints and palm prints. Because it has been a while since my last post on this topic, some of what I present here will repeat part of the previous post in order to make the discussion clear, and so you don’t have to refer to the previous one to understand this one.
Sunday, 13 April 2014 07:31
The television show CSI has moved fingerprint investigation into the forefront of many stories of crime fiction. It seems like on every episode of the popular TV series, the investigators magically uncover a fingerprint, and thirty minutes later the crime is solved. Unfortunately, reality follows a starkly different path. Fingerprints are hard to come by, quality fingerprints even more so, and usually at that point the print ends up belonging to the victim. That being said, this blog entry will delve into the world of latent print investigation.
The first thing I should do is break down that phrase: “latent prints.” I used the word “prints” rather than “fingerprints” for a reason. Palm prints are another means of identifying suspects, and they make up roughly one in three prints recovered at a crime scene. I’ll discuss them in depth in a few moments. When I say “prints,” I’m referring to both fingerprints and palm prints.
Monday, 24 March 2014 19:30
Last time, our discussion on death scenes included suicides, accidental deaths, and natural deaths. In this week’s blog, we’ll take a look at questionable deaths and homicide scenes.
The questionable death scene is a difficult one. Often, there are no obvious signs of trauma on the body and no obvious mechanism of death. It might even be unclear how the body came to be where it is. These cases are treated as homicides until we find sufficient evidence to decide otherwise.
Take for example the male body we found along the Illinois River a few years ago, just before Christmas. His body showed no signs of injury. Although the river had not yet frozen over, his clothing was dry, making it unlikely that he had drowned. He was lying face down in the sand, missing a shoe and wearing a jacket that wasn’t heavy enough for the frigid temperatures. A short distance to the west of his body was a seven-foot-high concrete wall, built to keep the river away from nearby homes during floods.
Monday, 17 March 2014 18:45
Once again, we’re cross-posting some great advice from the 13Thirty Books blog. This time, Rich Devin shares some tips on how to improve your sales at book signings. Now, we realize that these are somewhat rare events at bookstores for indie authors, but they don’t have to be at bookstores. And some of Rich’s tips can be extended and applied to marketing in general with the idea of improving your chances at getting noticed. It’s all about presentation. So, we hope that our readers will find useful information here.
Monday, 10 March 2014 19:57
At the end of the previous installment, I discussed various methods for determining how long a person has been dead. This time, we’re going to take a look at the manner of death: suicide, accidental, and natural.
In a typical case of natural death, the signs are obvious. In fact, our department policy is that if the death appears completely natural to the responding officer (and to the attending emergency medical personnel), the crime scene unit doesn’t need to respond. This would include cases of terminally ill patients, especially those who are home on hospice care, waiting to die. The elderly would fall into this category for the most part, but not always. I just watched a video recapping an 80-year-old and an 81-year-old, both of whom completed an Ironman race in Hawaii. Granted, that’s an extreme example, but it serves the purpose to demonstrate that just because someone has reached their elder years, it doesn’t necessarily mean their health is fragile. If the deceased was in their 80s but was in decent health and exercised regularly, I’d definitely want to take a closer look at the situation.
Tuesday, 25 February 2014 10:57
A commonly asked question, both at real crime scenes and at those from the world of fiction, is this: how long has the victim been dead? A variety of tools is available to investigators who are looking to answer that very question. However, sometimes the methods described by fiction authors fall short of reality. Let’s take a look at some ways we can get to the truth on this matter. Keep in mind that many of these methods are affected by temperature. The warmer the air, the faster all of these processes of decomposition will become.
One simple manner is by examining cell phones and other technology used for communication. This is a method I just used in the past week on a real case. A one-car, one-occupant accident occurred on a rural road, killing the driver. However, the wreckage wasn’t discovered for some time, so we had no idea how long the person had been deceased. We can download data from the Airbag Control Module (a.k.a. the “black box”), and while this will certainly tell us about the crash, the data doesn’t include a date and time stamp.
Instead, I checked her cell phone. By looking at her outgoing calls and text messages, along with her access to social media such as Facebook, I was able to determine that she was still alive at 1 a.m. She was found at around 3:00 a.m., so the time of death is down to a two-hour window. Not bad. If this had been a homicide, we’d have a great starting point for checking the alibis of potential suspects.
Tuesday, 04 February 2014 19:24
Last time, I talked about the functions and duties of the Coroner’s office, including the work done by the Forensic Pathologist. In this installment, I’ll move forward into police procedures when investigating the death scene.
First, I would like to take a moment to discuss what we call the “CSI Effect.” The popular television series, which has spawned its share of spin-off series, demonstrates the capabilities of the crime scene investigator. But in the process, the writers take great liberties with the entire process. No lab in the country is as well-equipped as the television crime lab. The scientists who work in real crime labs do not typically go to crime scenes, although they do go on rare occasions. And they don’t go out interviewing and arresting the suspects.
The other problem is that, in the interest of making the show more interesting, they play free with the abilities of the technologies in the crime lab. An example is the use of a chemical called Luminol, which is used to detect the presence of blood, even if the surface has been cleaned. I saw an episode where, in broad daylight, Luminol was used to detect blood on the metal blade of a shovel. My issues with this are many. The main problem is that the glow of a positive reaction from Luminol can only be viewed in near-total darkness. The other major issue is that metals will produce false positives for Luminol, making their positive result useless.