Tuesday, February 21, 2006

CSI vs art of investigation

The CSI effect was defined by Linda Deutsch in an AP report as a “TV bred demand by jurors for high-tech indisputable forensic evidence before they will convict”. We have seen a bit of that in our inquest juries, but it is expressed primarily in the questions they ask and in their deliberation discussions.

On example occurred at an inquest pertaining to an individual who had shot himself. The question arose as to whether his fingerprint was on the trigger to prove that he had indeed pulled the trigger. While things like that come up often on TV, in real life it is difficult to pick up a fingerprint on gunmetal, and, besides even if a print could be found the very partial (sliver) print would likely be unidentifiable (not enough information for comparison).

Another example we often encounter centers around suicide notes. Jurors always expect a note to be present (just like on TV). But, in reality, they are present much less than 50% of the time. In regard to notes found we get questions about handwriting analysis/comparison (not really an exact science) and/or if it was searched for fingerprints as evidence of some sort of mischief (not often worth the effort because the yield is lower than “expected).

While we do use some high-tech tools when appropriate, most of the work in medicolegal death investigation relies heavily on looking and seeing, asking and listening, communicating, thinking and reasoning. A bit old fashioned perhaps, but effective and it represents the “art” of medicolegal death investigations.

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