Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Crime Scene Investigation by Ayn Amorelli

Our Chapter One (Writer's Oasis) writing group (Monday nights at 8:00 pm CST) on AOL, invited guest mystery writer and published author Ayn Amorelli to speak on the ins-and outs of Crime Scene Investigation. Being a Criminal Minds junkie and a writer of romantic suspense/mystery novels, I was fascinated by the topic. I think you might be too. Enjoy your journey through the crime scene.


By Ayn Amorelli

Ayn Amorelli starts by telling us that all jurisdictions are different, but with minor variations, the following occurs:

Dispatch-- They get the call first. Someone suspects a crime has been committed, and they call 911. Dispatch calls out: the Patrol Division. These are the uniformed cops. They go to the location in which a crime has allegedly occurred and discover if a crime in fact has been committed. They then ask Dispatch to send out whoever they need (EMTs, etc.) The officers make their initial report, and ascertain if a criminal is still on the scene and arrest the suspect. They also interview witnesses and keep the crime scene from contamination.

Detectives: Next to arrive are the Detectives. They go to the scenes of major crimes like homicides. They usually do a walk through exam first, following the trail of the crime (like blood and overturned furniture), formulating how the crime occurred and a possible motive. Detectives take detailed notes, search for clues and ask questions.

(Professional forensic photographers specialized in their field , take photos (stills as well as videos) including pictures of the corpse before it is moved. Photographs help imprint the evidence in a room such as blood stains, which will be removed, placement of furniture and the relation of evidence to other objects in the room. These images are important to investigators long after the crime scene is gone and can be brought up as evidence in a trial.).

Technicians: Then come the CSI techs. They collect the evidence, get it ready to perform lab tests and maintain the claim of evidence to keep it secure until such time as needed.

EMT, Coroners or Medical Examiner: Next come the EMTS (emergency medical technicians) who treat wounded victims, or coroner or medical examiner to examine the dead. The Coroner or Medical Examiner examines the body and offers a suggestion as to time of death based on Rigor Mortis. If the particular jurisdiction uses a coroner, be aware that he is appointed or elected and does not need to have any medical qualifications. But a Medical Examiner is most often appointed and is often a board certified pathologist. They go out to the scene always.

Also, Corpus Delecti is the Body of Evidence not the corpse.

If the suspect is long gone, sometimes K-9 unit (the dogs) are dispatched to search for the suspect.

Search Warrant: In order to search locations, police must get a search warrant. This is an affidavit from a judge to police only. No PIs or amateur detectives can get them. Only certified cops. This affidavit requests the right to search a location and lists items or events the police think they may find to give them probable cause to make an arrest. They can't get a search warrant without probable cause. On an interesting note, a separate search warrant must be issued for searching a person's car.

When do you need a search warrant to examine the crime scene? The cops need one if the person in control of the location (not necessarily the owner) is unwilling to allow police to sign a Consent-to-Search form.

Another interesting tidbit: Officers don't have to restore a messed up location after they have searched.

If the space is rented, the renter, not the owner, is the person who must consent. In the case of a married couple, the wife may not let the cops search her husband's den, and the husband cannot give the cops permission to search his wife's Sewing Room, for example.

The Body of Evidence consists of: fingerprints, fibers at the scene, blood, gunshot residue, any footprints, tire tracks left at the scene as well as gunshot casings or anything unusual left there.

For fingerprints, AFIS is the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which is used nationwide and contains finger prints of most criminals in all jurisdictions. It speeds up arrests and convictions of known felons. But sometimes fingerprints coming into AFIS are slow, as they are imputed by local jurisdictions who do not have the necessary manpower.

There are 3 types of fingerprints CSIs look for: loops, whole and arches. Five percent of fingerprints are arches, 35% are shorts and 60% are loops. Most used Fingers: For robberies and burglaries, the most used fingers are the middle and index fingers of the right hand, so they look for those prints especially, as they will tell them if the culprit was left or right handed. As will the thumb. That will also tell if the culprit was left or right handed.

(Note: Finger prints are still in use, but DNA is now used by law enforcement for identification purposes. They can find DNA even on lipstick stains on a coffee cup. DNA not only has convicted many a criminal, where their fingerprints weren't available, but has proven many death row inmates innocent of the crimes of which they're charge. That's a whole topic unto itself.)

Chain of custody: Basically it is a paper trail verifying the evidence was not contaminated. Chain of custody is always maintained by the detectives.

So, ended the basic presentation. On to questions and comments .

I asked: The detectives don't need a search warrant to investigate the crime scene, do they? Ayn answered, “If no one at the scene signs a Consent to Search form, the detectives do need a search warrant.” This is something I didn’t know. I thought detectives could investigate a crime scene unimpeded at the time of the crime scene investigation.

Ayn said, “Readers of mysteries are a knowledgeable group. They want their stories realistic, and will often write in correcting the publisher if the information is incorrect. (don’t I know that? Whew!) Yes, mystery readers are a knowledgeable group.

Other tidbits: Never let anyone move the body before the detectives have seen it.

CSIs (crime scene investigators) are only responsible for collecting evidence at the scene, and then taking it back to the labs, following the Chain of Custody. Keep in mind, a Coroner could mess up by citing medical facts, when in fact, he's not a medical doctor. They don't have to be a doctor. However, today, in most jurisdictions, most communities want someone with medical qualifications.

What does CSI stand for? Test for all you CSI fans. Crime Scene Investigators.

Ayn pointed out that today, everything has to be done by the Rule Book. The government maintains standards… a set of rules that are expected. They are covered in the police’s basic training. All cops and detectives have to go through the Police Academy where they learn the rules to follow.

Something else important for writers to know: Cops can't prevent crime. They can only do something after a crime has been committed.

ShirleyMFlanagan asked a pertinent writing question: “How much of this information is needed in a novel?”

Ayn answered: “All of it Shirley, depending on how detailed you want to get… I probably need to do a talk about what they learn at the Police Academy.”

The group agreed that a police academy discussion would be helpful, Ayn agreed and will be back on March 16th at 8:00 CST on AOL Chapter One, “Writer’s Oasis,” for those serious folk who want to attend. Come with questions.

I’m looking forward to her presentation.

Ayn Hunt who also writes under Ayn Amorelli is a Texan who has wanted to be a published writer ever since she can remember. She started out in journalism eons ago with her internship at the Galveston Daily News, then branched out into freelancing, finally working up her courage to tackle writing novels. She is currently hard at work on her fifth book, in the young adult category. She can usually be found on Monday nights online at AOL's Chapter One, where, along with Shirley Flanagan, she gives a talk once a month about writing. Her published books include: Unwilling Killers, Obsessed, The Haunting and Contract Bride. With the exception of Obsessed, all her books are available at

Ayns website:

Sites associated with Chapter One's "Writer’s Oasis":!/groups/552257888148524/

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