Contemporary Issues in Forensic Investigation

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”Major investigations may contain many
complexes but crucial investigative aspects and issues. Critically analyse some
of these differing facets and the impact they may have upon an investigation.”




It’s fundamentally essential for any investigator
to understand the importance of a wide range of processes that are present in a
major investigation. The Senior Investigating Officer plays a fundamental role
in an investigation leading and directing all aspects of the investigation
making strategic decisions with regards to the direction of enquiries. In
addition, these decisions may be based and influenced by ethical issues that
may arise ultimately directing the investigators’ understanding and ultimately
affecting the decisions made regarding the case. There are many areas of
complexity that can impact and influence a major police investigation.
Evidently, SIOs need to be aware of developing contemporary issues that can
affect and impact an investigation. There are consistent principles that an SIO
should follow in order to provide an effective investigation furthermore they
need to be greatly aware of the developing investigation and consider each case
of the wide range factors and information that are presented in them. An SIO essentially
needs to effectively manage the opportunities and challenges which may be
presented in the investigation. There are many challenges within a mass of
cases that illustrate these areas of complexities, showing the degree of the intricacy
and how they are able to impact an investigation as a result.


investigative process:


A crucial
aspect of the investigation is the investigative process requires the SIO to
efficiently and effect??ivy manage the initial response to the investigation. The
response process begins with an initial crime scene assessment where potential
evidence is gathered and identified and then evaluated in regarding its
relevance to case (Smith and
Flanagan, 2000). Within in the initial crime scene assessment stage
there are many complex’s and developments that can arise from sourcing
potential evidence.  The SIO of the
investigation needs to have the aptitude and capability to understand
information from the scene. Bentham memorably stated that ” The field of evidence is
the field of knowledge” (Bentham and Bowring,
1843), what this implies that our existing knowledge makes sense of
evidence which then facilitates its operative state for a legal purpose. This
stage is crucial for any investigation as it foundation building blocks for any
investigation. Every single crime that is committed is differentiated from one
another and no two are the same as every crime is different and has a unique
collection and distribution of evidence.


The integrity of evidence
plays a fundamental aspect of the investigation.it is understood now that
criminal investigation is usually the only chance to identify and collect the
material that’s required by courts to hear a case. Physical material enables
investigators to narrow down the possibilities and construct a hypothesis of
what has occurred. If material is not identified during an investigation, it is
improbable that it can later be recuperated. If an investigator fails to identify
and detect material during the investigation phase it is doubtful that these
materials will be available later on as a result it may cause difficulties
later on in the case as courts may find it problematic to assess the quality of
material presented later on (Stelfox,



The investigators need to try
to establish what has occurred, while at the same time preserving and managing
the scene and ensuring that the correct individuals have been alerted e.g. Scenes
of crime officer (SOCO) and a pathologist (Smith
and Flanagan, 2000). Making sure that all protocols are being
followed throughout, especially when concerning in Identification and preservation of evidence in order
to maintain its integrity. Assimilating
relevant information at this stage is imperative, the SIO can begin to attempt
build a picture, forming various hypotheses testing each one and choosing which
hypothesis is most likely to have occurred and looking at its justifications as
to why. The hypothesis formulated at this stage of the investigation must be capable
of being turned into appropriate lines of enquiry, recognising which
information may act as a source of potential evidence and forming the ‘story’
to case. It is the story that is presented, the position can be justified and the
ultimate probanda proved.


Maguire and Norris suggested in 1992 that police
investigations were conducted and characterized by case construction rather
than truth finding. Cases were then constructed based on the hypothesis that
were formed as soon as an individual was suspected. The investigation proceedings
then soon focused on information that will support that suspicion rather than a
continuing the search focused on what really occurred (Maguire and Norris, 1992).  As a result, there have been several
cases that consequently lead to miscarriages of justice due to investigators precipitous
decisions making. A study was conducted in 1992 by the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice from the research conducted the
most occurring type of error in crime investigation was that of decisions
making within the investigations (Irving and Dunnighan, 1993).  


In the Lesley
Molseed cases is a great example of miscarriage of justice due to the descions
made at the beginning of the investigation. Stefan Kiszko who was an intellectually
disabled man was wrongfully convicted for the murder of Lesley Molseed and
served 16 years prison sentence. West Yorkshire Police immediately framed that
Kiszko fitted their profile of the kind of individual liable to have murdered
Lesley Molseed despite the fact that he had never been persecuted by the law.
In addition, he had the mental and emotional age of 12 and had no social life
beyond his mother (BBC NEWS, 2007).
Consequently, due to the hypothesis made on the based on three young girls
reported that he indecently exposed himself just days before Lesley was
murdered due to this information the police became doubtful of Kiszko’s unique
lifestyle. Furthermore, Kiszko had a strange hobby of writing down registration
numbers of cars that infuriated him coincidently he had written down the number
of a car later discovered in close proximate to the crime scene. West Yorkshire
Police pursued evidence that would incriminate him as they convinced that he
was the prime and only suspect while ignoring other potential leads that might
have resulted in a different outcome to the investigation. This contributed to
his wrongful conviction, this particular case is a great illustration of a case
being conducted and characterized by case construction rather than truth
finding. Hypothesis that are formed are crucial for the development of the
investigation which can change the direction of the case altogether.


The investigative
process is flawed as it to opaque due to the fact the investigators develop
their options and bias as the case develops over time. During the initial
crime scene assessment stage the materials that  are obtained help interpret, shape and
construct the case. If sufficient information has been gathered then the
verdict is set in stone however if the fundamental evidence isn’t presented in
time can be disastrous for the defending party. There are many factors that can
contribute the conviction of an innocent individual which include confirmatory
bias in police conducting the investigation, false confessions due to investigators
applying huge amount of pressure on the individual for a confession, dishonest
reports/witnesses statement made, non-disclosure of exculpatory evidence, cognitive
biases and prejudices of juries and also finally the media input in the
investigation which helps form the decisions made by juries. All of these errors
were present in the Lesley Molseed cases. Evidence
was suppressed in Kiszko’s favour wrongly convicting him of murder as he was
seen as unusual individual who was a social misfit that suffered from minor
behavioural abnormalities. Police applied pressure for a confession which was
later understood that pleaded guilty under duress.



role of the media:


Over the past decade the mass media has become an
important aspect in major criminal investigations. Investigators encourage
publicity and exposure for on-going case in order to support and assist them
with acquiring more knowledge. A result it could be a crucial part of the
investigation weather that is identifying an individual or help them comprehend
how the crime occurred, investigators strategically utilise the media to their
advantage. The
SIO of the investigation needs to have the aptitude and capability to
efficiently, ensure that media strategy for the investigation is robust enough
to ensure that they remain in charge of press releases and that they maintain
ownership and control.  


Investigators acknowledge the power of the media as
a result utilised the power it holds. Most investigators view the media as a
mixed blessing (Stelfox, 2009).
The relationship between the police and the media is “an enduring, if not ecstatically happy, marriage” as Sir Robert
mark the commissioner of the metropolitan police stated in 1971. Most media
outlets are just interested acquiring material to provide information that is
perceived as worthy news. That modern news is influenced by entertainment
industry and that they are driven by visualising deviance as “Deviance is the defining characteristic of
what journalists regard as newsworthy” (Ericson et al., 1987). Ericson and his collages
conducting the study on visualising deviance, stated that the high proportion
of news that is portrayed about deviance and control. The media portrays a distorted
image of crime through their selection of certain stories which are dedicated
to deviance.


Murder cases especially those that contain
suspicious death remain the most common crime that is portrayed in media and
highly likely to attract intense media and public interest. Violent acts will
strong visual graphical impact are highly likely to tract the media interest. Correspondingly,
the trends in the media imply a progressively threatening image of crime in
news stories. This is compounded by the more negative and destructive
representations of the police (Mason,


In most major criminal investigations, credible
material is accumulated at an in the initial crime scene assessment stage,
which later on provides a clear focus for the line enquiries of the
investigation. Evidently cases that accumulate relevant materials in the early
stages are distinguished relatively quickly. Only a minority of investigations
are complex when materials aren’t composed in the early stages. Then next
initial stage for the investigation is to use the media as an investigative
tool and release information, frequently this is last possibility when all
other inquiries have been exhausted. Using the media is often an advantage when investigator have


However, there is no assurance that a story will be
reported in ways that has a positive impact to the investigation. There have
been incidents where a story has been reported in an uncooperative and
disobliging manner regarding the investigation. Simply due to the fact that it constructs
a better story and is news worthy or isn’t reported at all because its
considered as ordinary and mundane. There is a danger when realising
information to the media as the case may be sensualised in ways that ultimately
misconstrue the level of threat and the investigation.


The Stephan Lawrence case is a great example how
the role of the media impacted the investigation. The media highlighted many
complexities within the case and issues within the metropolitan police at the
time of the investigation. The case caused widespread controversy and became
one of the highest profile racial killings in UK history, evidently changing attitudes
on racism and the police, as well as the legal landscape and police practice
all together. The media highlighted the issues of racism, professional incompetence,
and institutional racism that was evident in the investigation. The media’s
coverage of the Stephen Lawrence case was positive impact to the investigation
which allowed issue of race to be investigated. Stephan Lawrence was an
18-year-old black man who was murdered in a racially motivated unprovoked
attack while he waited for a bus in 1993.


The Daily Mail accused and branded five white men
of the murder on its front page in 1997 which caused controversy, as it was an uncommon
practice in journalistic reporting to accuse individuals of murder after the
court has failed to do so. This act by the paper violated the journalistic
ethics however this was an advantage to investigation as it launched a campaign
for justice ever since the paper published the article. The article received attention
of the country which applied pressure on the police uncover more evidence which
would lead to a full trial and possible conviction of the suspected killers.