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Medico-Legal Update

A visit of Forensic Pathologist to the scene of crime Need of an hour

Author(s): Shilekh Mittal, Sonia Mittal, Moneeshindra Singh Mittal

Vol. 8, No. 2 (2008-07 - 2008-12)

Shilekh Mittal٭, Sonia Mittal٭٭, Moneeshindra Singh Mittal٭٭٭

٭Assistant Professor, Department of Forensic Medicine, MM Institute of Medical Sciences & Research, Mullana, Ambala,
٭٭Assistant Professor, Department of Physiology, MM Institute of Medical Sciences & Research, Mullana, Ambala,
٭٭٭Junior Consultant, Mittal Hospital, Faridkot.

Abstract

Things are not always what they seem to be at first sight. Many cases of homicides go undetected because of lack of suspicion and improper or inadequate or unscientific investigation. There is no specialization of work in the police force at the level of the police station, leading to inexperience personnel, mishandling the forensic aspects of a case. This leads to miscarriage of justice and exerts an additional burden upon the forensic pathologist or autopsy surgeon in any given case.

Keywords: Scene of crime, Medicolegal Masquerades

The solution of many crimes and certainly all major ones depends to a large extent on scientific support of investigation team1. Scientific progress has widened the scope of modern day autopsies. Today, it has been expanded to include the application of knowledge and instruments of specialized sciences.

The forensic pathologist is required to go beyond stating the mere cause of death. He might be required to establish all the facts, both lethal and non-lethal. The medicolegal autopsy demands meticulous detailed descriptions, measurements and collection of evidence2.

In cases of unnatural death, a complete understanding of the cause, mode and manner of death and related aspects of forensic thantology involves a thorough examination in all of a case. The examination in a medicolegal case should include:

  1. Inspection of the body and its surroundings at the place where it was found, including the inspection of the clothing’s, weapons and any other articles that may have any connection with the case.
  2. External and internal examination of the body in the mortuary.
  3. Chemical examination of the viscera, in case in which any suspicion of poisoning attaches with a case.

Of these examinations, the first and second should ideally be made by the forensic pathologist. In routine practice, however for the first, the forensic pathologist has to rely upon the information that is made available by the ill trained police officers. In law, it is the police and concerned magistrate who are authorized to visit the scene of occurrence and carry out their investigations in accordance with section 174 and 176 of CrPC.

The usual practice is that, when the police have made such inspection on the spot, as they may consider necessary, the body is bundled on to any available means of conveyance and is taken to the nearest police station or available hospital or mortuary. Generally an ill educated police official, who frequently cannot write properly, prepares the prescribed inquest papers. Therefore the information given for the guidance of an autopsy surgeon is frequently meager and not infrequently misleading.

The police are not always to blame for the lack of information, because often they themselves possess little. More often the police prepare the inquest report sitting in the mortuary which results in the documents produced which is often short on facts and long on fiction. To be fair on them, there is no specialization of work in the police force at the level of police station, leading to inexperienced personnel mishandling the forensic aspects of a case. There are number of cases where important evidences, such as ligature material, fired bullet and weapons used in a crime have been just picked up from the scene without gloves, photography or documentation under the wrong belief that these are to be sealed during autopsy. Even in cases of hanging, the ligature material is frequently removed from the body at the scene of occurrence, rendering its comparison with the pressure abrasion produced around the neck.

In some countries where medical examination system is placed the forensic pathologist or medical examiner is required to visit the scene of occurrence of any unnatural death. In India, however the system of inquest that is practiced is the police and magisterial inquest. Therefore in a vast majority of cases, the forensic pathologist first sees the body only in the mortuary3.

Pit falls of the Forensic Pathologist not visiting scene of crime

  1. When the body is transferred to mortuary, fresh abrasions may be produced on it during transit.
  2. Clothing’s will be disarranged; blood stains will form on parts of clothes originally free from them.
  3. Fresh tears in clothes may be produced from rough handling.
  4. Existing rigor mortis may be broken down at least partially4.

The primary reason for the attendance of the police surgeon is usually to pronounce life extinct, which should be done as soon as the doctor arrives. Where death is obviously due to foul play this may be the doctor’s only function, but where the circumstances surrounding the death are not clear, a preliminary examination may be required at the scene1. The doctor should be better trained and more knowledgeable of the cause and manner of death than any other investigator at the death scene. He should also focus on the physical condition of a body at a scene. Preliminary scene information regarding injuries, trace evidence, identification and estimation of time of death5.

A complete and wholesome forensic pathological opinion can be formed only after taking into account information obtained from the investigation of the scene of a death. The evaluation of circumstances of death in a medicolegal case may be of critical importance in establishing the mode of death i.e. a suicide or homicide or accident.

Even where initial evidence points to a sudden death, subsequent postmortem examination may reveal foul play and a murder inquiry is initiated. The doctor should therefore ensure that in all circumstances a satisfactory examination has been carried out and attention paid to evidence preservation. The role of the forensic scientist is to carry out appropriate scientific examination in support of the investigation of crime.

The purpose of these examinations may be:

  • To determine if a crime has been committed
  • To provide corroborative evidence.
  • To provide intelligence. Identifying a suspect from blood left at the scene of crime through the DNA database1.

Suggestions

To stop the miscarriage of justice some of the changes should be made in our working:

  1. Training of police officers about the forensic aspects of the case.
  2. Creating a post of Forensic Pathologist in each district head quarter to help the police for its day to day working.
  3. Making mandatory for the visit of Forensic Pathologist to scene of crime in all unnatural deaths.

References

  1. Mclay WDA. Clinical Forensic Medicine. The Scene of Crime and Trace Evidence. 2nd ed. London: Greenwich Medical Media; 1996. p 247-70.
  2. Dogra TD, Rudra A. Lyon’s Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology. Forensic Thanatology I Examination of the Dead. 11th ed. Delhi: Delhi Law House; 2005. p. 707 40.
  3. Dogra TD, Rudra A. Lyon’s Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology. Forensic Thanatology II Examination of Scene of Occurance. 11th ed. Delhi: Delhi Law House; 2005. p. 741 8.
  4. Reddy KSN. The Essential of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology. Legal Procedure. 26th ed.Hyderabad: Om Sai Graphics; 2007. p. 5 19.
  5. Dix J, Calaluce R. Guide to Forensic Pathology. Guidelines for the Death Scene Investigator Boca Raton: CRC Press; 1999. p 19 24.

Address For Correspondence:
Dr. Shilekh Mittal

Dept. of Forensic Medicine,
MM Institute of Medical Sciences and Research,
Mullana, Ambala

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