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Swanson, Criminal Investigation 8/e
Criminal Investigation, 8/e
Charles R. Swanson, University of Georgia
Neil C. Chamelin, Assistant State Attorney, Second Judicial Circuit
Leonard Territo, University of South Florida- Tampa

Injury and Death Investigations

Chapter Overview

        The investigation of felonious injuries and criminal homicides can be the most important, yet difficult responsibility assigned to the police investigator. First, these crimes are viewed as among the most serious offenses committed in our society. The seriousness is reflected in all state statutes, which impose severe penalties for acts resulting in the grave bodily injury or death of a human being.

        Second, in the beginning stages of the investigation, the inability to identify the decedent, for example, greatly complicates the investigative process and prevents it from moving forward. Questions such as who was the victim's enemies, and who would benefit most from the victim's death must be answered before any significant progress can be made in the investigation. Searching for buried bodies and estimating the time of death are also valuable pieces of information that need to be obtained early in the investigation.

        Third, the interview and interrogation process for the investigator in both felony assaults and homicides can be very difficult. For felony assaults, the victim may be unwilling to cooperate because he/she wants to settle the dispute personally, believes he/she deserved the assault and does not want the perpetrator punished, or fears reprisal. Witnesses and other parties who have valuable information about criminal homicides may also fear revenge from the suspect, fear of implicating him/herself in the crime or for other reasons simply do "not want to get involved." Furthermore, once a suspect has been identified, given the gravity of the offense and the punishment that he/she faces, obtaining a confession or at least enough information to arrest and later prosecute can be a formidable task.

        Finally, criminal homicides, in particular, can generate a lot of media attention and public scrutiny for the department. Pressure to solve the crime from both inside and outside the police agency creates added strain on the criminal investigator.

        For these cases, in particular, investigators may need to call on the assistance of experts in the scientific and medical fields. Investigators should create working relationships with specialists such as forensic pathologists, toxicologists, entomologists, and botanists, who can all provide useful assistance to the case. In short, the severity of these crimes warrants that investigators utilize all available resources to be employed in their investigation.