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Forensic Video Production

Video CameraIn most cases it’s as much, or more, about the technique than the equipment when it comes to crime  scene videography. Forensic video production is valuable for showing an overview of the crime scene and should be considered in major cases. While video cannot replace still photographs due to its lower resolution, video does provide an easily understandable viewing medium that shows the layout of the crime scene and the location of evidence. Videos of crime scenes are not often used in court, but they are valuable illustrations for explaining the scene to other investigators and are often used to refresh the memory of those who were involved in processing the crime scene.

Crime scene videotaping techniques

When videoing  crime scenes, you should start the video with a brief introduction presented by an investigator. The introduction should include the date, time, location, type of crime scene, and any other important introductory information. The introduction should also include a brief description of the rooms and evidence that will be viewed in the video. The investigator may want to display a basic diagram as an illustration during the introduction.

Following the introduction the recording is paused and the microphone is turned off. This will prevent any distracting sounds from recording on the video  during the recording of the scene. Begin videoing the crime scene with a general overview of the scene and surrounding area. Continue throughout the scene using wide angle and close up views to show the layout of the scene, location of evidence, and the relevance of evidence within the crime scene. While videoing, use slow camera movements such as panning, and zooming.

In-camera editing is an ideal way to produce crime scene videos. In this method you start and stop the recording at the angles and areas you want. This prevents  distractions and distortion  of moving  around and fast zooming. Editing software can then seamlessly put these clips together for a complete overall video production.

Equipment 

Many departments and agencies can not afford high-end commercial use cameras for forensic video production.  That’s perfectly fine, smaller cameras and even iPhone / iPads can be used to produce high quality video production of your crime scene.  In most cases it’s as much, or more, about the technique than the equipment when it comes to crime  scene videography.

Training 

It is critical  investigators get some training in proper forensic video production techniques. These classes are not offered as much as still photography courses. However, it is critical you find these courses. If courses in this area of crime scene processing are not found in your area then search out those people who produce video for other fields, such as television camera operators and wedding videographers. Techniques and camera familiarization can be learn from these professionals and you can adapt what you need for your use.

Above all – try.  Your first crime scene video may not be of the standards you wish it be be. However, with each time, and practice on non-crime scene shoots, you will improve with each shoot.

Episode Guest 

On this episode of the Coroner Talk™ podcast I talk with Scott Alan Kuntz of  Scott Alan Video LLC.  Scott is an active law enforcement officer and owns his own company helping other agencies in training and consulting work.  More about Scott and how he can help your agency can be found at:

http://www.scottalanvideo.com

 

Questionable convictions in “shaken baby” cases

Shaken BabyThe term “shaken baby syndrome” (SBS) was developed to explain those instances in which severe intracranial trauma occurred in the absence of signs of external head trauma. SBS is the severe intentional application of violent force (shaking) in one or more episodes, resulting in intracranial injuries to the child. Physical abuse of children by shaking usually is not an isolated event. Many shaken infants show evidence of previous trauma.

Frequently, the shaking has been preceded by other types of abuse.

Mechanism of Injury

The mechanism of injury in SBS is thought to result from a combination of physical factors, including the proportionately large cranial size of infants, the laxity of their neck muscles, and the vulnerability of their intracranial bridging veins, which is due to the fact that the subarachnoid space (the space between the arachnoid membrane and the pia mater, which are the inner two of the three membranes that cover the brain) are somewhat larger in infants. However, the primary factor is the proportionately large size of the adult relative to the child. Shaking by admitted assailants has produced remarkably similar injury patterns:

  • The infant is held by the chest, facing the assailant, and is shaken violently back and forth.
  • The shaking causes the infant’s head to whip forward and backward from the chest to the back.
  • The infant’s chest is compressed, and the arms and legs move about with a whiplash action.
  • At the completion of the assault, the infant may be limp and either not breathing or breathing shallowly.
  • During the assault, the infant’s head may strike a solid object.
  • After the shaking, the infant may be dropped, thrown, or slammed onto a solid surface.
  • The last two events likely explain the many cases of blunt injury, including skull fractures, found in shaken infants. However, although blunt injury may be seen at autopsy in shaken infants, research data suggest that shaking in and of itself is often sufficient to cause serious intracranial injury or death.

 

 

Questionable convictions in “shaken baby” cases?

Deborah Tuerkheimer is a Professor of Law at Northwestern University and the author of “Flawed Convictions: ‘Shaken Baby Syndrome’ and the Inertia of Injustice.” She also appears onSaturday’s “48 Hours” investigation into the case of Melissa Calusinski, a former day care provider who says she is wrongfully convicted in a toddler’s death. Here, Tuerkheimer weighs in on questionable convictions in child death cases. Her opinions do not necessarily reflect those of CBS News.

A few months ago, a 55-year-old Florida day care provider became yet another caregiver accused of shaking a toddler to death. The woman, who had worked with children for decades, denied harming the boy. But pediatricians concluded that this was a case of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS).

Even before an autopsy was performed, the state charged the woman with murder. She is being held in jail without bond and if convicted, she faces mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Based on the press reports, this case resembles many that I have written about in my book, Flawed Convictions: “Shaken Baby Syndrome” and the Inertia of Injustice. Without witnesses or external signs of abuse, the classic diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome rests on three neurological symptoms, otherwise known as the “triad”: bleeding beneath the outermost layer of the brain, retinal bleeding, and brain swelling.

These symptoms are said to prove that a baby was violently shaken and, what’s more, to identify the abuser– whoever was present when the child was last lucid. Shaken Baby Syndrome is, in essence, a medical diagnosis of murder. In order to convict, prosecutors must rely entirely on the claims of science.

But the science has shifted. In recent years, there has been a growing consensus among experts that the neurological symptoms once viewed as conclusive evidence of abuse may well have natural causes, and that old brain injuries can re-bleed upon little or no impact.

In short, current science raises significant questions about the guilt of many caregivers convicted of shaking babies.

Reflecting real movement in the direction of doubt, this past spring, a federal judge in Chicago issued a ruling of “actual innocence” in the case of Jennifer Del Prete, a caregiver accused of shaking a baby in her care. (My book describes this trial in detail.) Del Prete was able to show that, based on what doctors now know about alternative causes of the triad, no reasonable jury could possibly find Del Prete guilty of murder. Indeed, according to the reviewing judge, a lack of evidentiary support for the theory of Shaken Baby Syndrome means that the diagnosis is arguably “more an article of faith than a proposition of science.”

Our legal system has been slow to absorb this new reality. As a consequence, innocent parents and caregivers remain incarcerated and, perhaps more inexplicably, prosecutions based solely on the “triad” symptoms continue even to this day. The cautionary tale of Shaken Baby Syndrome shows that our system is too inclined to stay the course, and awful injustices can result.

Pt 2 The Suicide Plan – Investigating Planned Suicides

SuicideThe assisted suicide movement is, if anything, indefatigable. Not only is it undeterred by its failures, but it is now more energized than any other time in recent years. By the end of March of 2015, bills were introduced in twenty-five state legislatures to legalize assisted suicide.

Defining the Subject

Many people remain confused about the exact nature of assisted suicide advocacy, sometimes confusing it with other medical issues involving end-of-life care. Thus, to fully understand the subject, we must distinguish between ethical choices at the end of life that may lead to death and the poison of euthanasia/assisted suicide.

1.      Refusing unwanted medical treatment is not assisted suicide: Fear of being “hooked up to machines” when one wishes to die at home has traditionally been a driving force behind the assisted suicide movement. But we all have the right to refuse medical interventions—even if the choice is likely to lead to death. Thus, a cancer patient can reject chemotherapy and a patient dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease can say no to a respirator.  Indeed, in 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the right to refuse medical treatment is completely different from assisted suicide.[9]

2.      Assisted suicide/euthanasia is not the same as medical treatment for pain control: Because pain control may require strong drugs, which can cause death, assisted suicide advocates often claim that palliation and euthanasia are ethically the same under the “principle of double effect.” But this is all wrong:

  • Any legitimate medical treatment can unintentionally lead to death, including pain alleviation. In assisted suicide death is the intended effect.
  • We would never say that a patient who died during open heart surgery was euthanized. Similarly, a patient who dies from the unintended side effects of pain control has not been assisted in suicide or euthanized.
  • Pain control experts state that aggressive pain control generally does not shorten life.

3.      Assisted suicide/euthanasia is antithetical to hospice: Hospice was founded by the great medical humanitarian Dame Cicely Saunders in the late 1960s as a reform movement to bring the care of the dying out of isolated hospitals and into patients’ homes or non-institutional local care facilities. Its purpose is to provide dying people with proper treatment of pain and other disturbing symptoms as well as to render spiritual, psychological, and social support toward the end that life be lived as fully as possible until natural death.

In contrast, assisted suicide is about rushing death, making it happen sooner rather than later through lethal actions. Or to put it another way: Hospice is about living. Assisted suicide/euthanasia is about dying. As the noted palliative care expert and assisted suicide opponent Dr. Ira Byock has written, “There’s a distinction between alleviating suffering and eliminating the sufferer — between enabling someone to die gently of their disease and ending that person’s life with a lethal pill or injection.”

4.      Assisted suicide/euthanasia are acts that intentionally end life: In contrast to the above, the intended purpose of assisted suicide and euthanasia is to end life, e.g., to kill. In assisted suicide, the last act causing death is taken by the person who dies, for example, ingesting a lethal prescription of barbiturates. In euthanasia, the death is a homicide, an act of killing taken by a third person, such as a doctor injecting a patient with poisonous drugs.

From an Investigators Standpoint 

With the above statements we can see that the topic of assisted suicide is at best conversional.  As a death investigator, our job is simple; to report the facts and the facts only.  However, it is well understood that our own emotions and bias on the topic can and will play a role in how we approached these scenes. The investigators must guard against allowing these personal feelings to interfere with the proper reporting and interpretation of  the scene.

Conversation with Prosecuting Attorney 

It is  a good suggestion to have a conversation with your  prosecuting attorney and a review of your agency policy to see how best to proceed in these cases. You should always report all facts in the case, but having a better understanding of how you are expected to proceed may well help in your overall review of the case.

With Family

No matter what decision  your Prosecuting Attorney goes, some members of the deceased family will invariably not agree with the decision.  This is why it best to do a proper and complete investigation, report all and only, the facts – and let those responsible for making these critical decision do their job. You, as the investigator , can rest in the knowledge that you have done your job and can properly explain to the family exactly what took place and why decision  are made based upon these facts.  Many family members may still not agree with the outcome, but it is much better for them to have the facts than them come up with their own set of “facts’ as they see it.

Anita Brook-corner talk-secondary stressAnita Brooks    anitabrooks.com

EMS-First Responders “the first eyes and ears” |CT10

ambulanceThe moment you step out of your rig – you’re in the crime scene.

The most important aspect of evidence collection and preservation is protecting the crime scene. This is to keep the pertinent evidence uncontaminated until it can be recorded and collected. The successful prosecution of a case can hinge on the state of the physical evidence at the time it is collected. The protection of the scene begins with the arrival of the first responder or EMS crew at the scene and ends when the scene is released from police custody.  What EMS does, or does not do, can have a lasting impact on the crime scene.   

Planning ahead can save countless hours of investigation and re-work of a crime scene.  Plan as you’re in route to the scene, plan your entry upon arrival, and make mental and physical notes of your observations.  Child and infant deaths hold an even greater level of responsibility for perception of the scene.

In the episode we talk about ems responsibilities at crime scenes and what you should plan on and look for.  EMS and first responders are part of any criminal investigation where they were called to. As such, it is likely you will be called into court for your witness testimony. What you do and don’t do at a crime scene can have great impact on you and your agency.

Coroner & Law Enforcement Scene Cooperation | CT4

Crime-scene-cooperation-coroner-policeIt is clear that coroners have crime scene jurisdiction. But what happens when a lay person gets elected to the office of coroner and had no crime scene training. What is local law enforcement supposed to do ?What are Coroners supposed to do when the local law enforcement won’t recognize their authority?

The Office of the Coroner is the oldest administrative office of government. The coroner is responsible for the investigation and certification of cause and manner of deathThe county coroner is notified when a death warrants investigation and works in conjunction with the police authorities to investigate deaths of a violent nature or unnatural cause (accident, homicide, suicide). Some states require coroners to be notified of all deaths, including natural. When the dead body of a person is found or lying within the county, the coroner will immediately go to the place where the body is and make a preliminary investigation. Read More