Offense Issues

Tabetha Cooper

When investigating a homicide or rape there are certain techniques that need to be used and issues that need to be avoided.  An investigator needs to be aware of the proper techniques in each investigation process and the ethical issues involved.  In this paper the proper investigative techniques for 
Ethics and Technology
Ethics and Technology (Photo credit: Center for the Study of Ethics at UVU)
homicide and rape along with the ethical issues, how to reduce the ethical problems, the problems that a prosecutor will face if an investigation isn’t handled ethically, and what ethical issues are directly related to the prosecutor will be discussed.
            As stated by Morris and Zuluaga (2006), in any crime the investigative process can be summed up in approximately five steps: interview, examination, photographing and sketching, processing, and interrogation.  The responding officer determines if a crime has been committed then he immediately sections off the crime scene, calls in the proper detectives, and separates then interviews victims, witnesses, and suspects if there are any present.  The responding investigators will re-interview any victims, witnesses, or suspects.  They then will go into the crime scene and make photographs, notes, and sketches of the entire scene and then examine everything.  The investigator then collects evidence and takes it to the proper chain of custody for processing.  From the information gathered at the crime scene through victims, witnesses, and evidence the investigator develops theories about what had happened and determines motive from each individual suspect.  Through interrogation the investigator will eliminate theories, motives, and suspects until the most likely scenario and person is all that is left.  The detective will then go to the prosecutor to see if there is sufficient evidence and information for a conviction and if so an arrest of the suspect is made.
http://openclipart.org/clipart/people/magnifying_glass_01.svg License: PublicDomain Keywords: people Author: AbiClipart Title: Magnifying Glass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
            All the investigative techniques are the same in the event of a rape or homicide but further steps and care needs to be taken.  In a rape the investigator is responsible for transporting the victim to a hospital or an assault lab where physical evidence can be collected.  No matter the age of the victim a councilor needs to be present during the second interview of the victim, but if the victim is a minor a child councilor is a definite must and a parent may also need to be present.  Other than those additions to the interview process no one else should be present, just like any other interview the less people present the more comfortable the victim is going to be when it comes to talking about the crime that has been committed against them.  Something else to note in a rape case is the inconsistency in statements does not necessarily mean that the victim is lying, when a person has been subjected to trauma of that extent, events can blur together, things can be hard to remember, or the sheer embarrassment brought on by the crime can keep a victim from telling the entire set of facts of the crime.  Also, the investigator should be one that is familiar with sex crimes and has experience interviewing those victims.  In a homicide the biggest different in investigative techniques is that the victim can’t verbally tell you what happen to them, but with a thorough medical examination of the body the victim may be able to tell you how everything happened.  As said by The National Institute of Justice (2009), an examination of the body can give unbiased information about the “victim’s physical attributes, his/her relationship to the scene, and possible cause, manner, and circumstances of death.”  Most of the information in regards to a suspect is going to come through interviewing family and friends of the victim.  In both a homicide and rape there is much more physical evidence that needs to be collected and processed.
National Institute of Justice logo
National Institute of Justice logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
            There are ethical issues that need to be taken into account when it comes to an investigation.  Just as with other professions you do run across law enforcement personnel that aren’t the most truthful.  When an investigator is certain of which suspect perpetrated a crime but doesn’t have enough evidence to charge him/her with it things can be frustrating.  If a less than honest investigator is put in this situation there can be the temptation to fabricate or falsify evidence, not turn in information or evidence that may indicate a different suspect, or misrepresent themselves to the suspect in order to obtain incriminating evidence (www.cwu.edu).  All of these things are unethical and cause problems for the prosecutor in court proceedings.  Some of these unethical behaviors can be committed inadvertently from a very honest investigator as well.  Take not reporting information or evidence that may indicate another offender, for example.  The investigator may run across information or evidence that doesn’t seem important to the investigation and disregard it without taking the necessary procedures to record and preserve it.  Another issue that may cause problems for the prosecutor would be the mishandling of evidence.  Whether it hadn’t been sent through the proper chain of custody or it was improperly stored, contamination becomes an issue.  This can become an issue at trial, and the evidence will then lose its integrity.  Just one unethical event can happen in the investigation of the case that can cause the entire investigation to be called into question.  An offender may get off because of this either at the initial trial or through a court of appeals.  
            There are other issues that can cause ethical dilemmas, such as, when an inexperienced investigator is sent to investigate a victim of a rape and doesn’t proceed with the necessary sensitivity that a rape victim needs, improperly conducting the interview.  This could cause vital information to be lost because the victim just wants to be finished the interview.  There are also ethical issues when it comes to interrogating a suspect.  An investigator may intimidate a suspect into confessing to a crime that he/she may or may not have committed.  The investigator may put the suspect in conditions less than optimal or promise them thing such as a reduced sentence in order to obtain the confession.  The defense can bring these things up at trial, which will pose a problem for the prosecutor.  Once an investigator has fumbled an investigation in any form their integrity in future investigations and in past convictions can and most likely will be called into question.
Detectives at crime scenes
Detectives at crime scenes (Photo credit: Boston Public Library)
            According to Morris and Zuluaga (2006), steps can be taken to eliminate the ethical problems that may arise through the course of an investigation.  After the victims, witnesses, and suspects (if applicable) have been identified and the facts of the case have been given an investigator should evaluate the situation for any moral or unethical problems that may become present in a case.  The principles that may be jeopardized and their necessity in the case should be clarified.  The investigator should evaluate possible ways to get around these problems or come up with a solution to the dilemma.  This should all be clearly noted in case it becomes an issue at trial, there will be proof that the situation was thought about and the best means to take care of the situation was executed. 
            When a person chooses to become an investigator, there are several things that need to be taken into account.  An investigators main goal is to solve the crime and get a perpetrator off the street.  There are several thing, if not handled properly, can keep this from happening.  Once proper investigative techniques have been learned then ethical situations need to be evaluated.  Now that certain situations have been listed, as well as how these things can affect the investigation, and then the prosecution of the suspect an investigator can use the steps mentioned to keep these from being an issue.    

Morris, E. & Zuluaga, C. (2006). Investigating Ethical Crimes.  International Journal of
 Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology
 (IJEDICT). Vol. 2, Issue 1, pp. 22-33.  Original Article @:  http://ijedict.dec.uwi.edu//viewarticle.php?id=116&layout=html

National Institute of Justice. (2009) A Guide to Death Scene Investigation: Documenting and
Evaluating the Body | National Institute of Justice. Retrieved February 23, 2010, from

Osterburg, J.W. & Ward, R.H. (2007) Criminal Investigation: A Method for Reconstructing         the Past (5th ed.) Newark, NJ. Mathew Bender & Company, Inc.

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