There are several key points to scene investigations:
-- Likely multiple scenes
-- Likely different witness perspectives
-- Likely different investigative perspectives
-- Completing vs. Conducting investigations
What should the attorney, private client or insurance company be prepared for in having an skilled and experienced investigative process?
First, what is a scene? Well, it is not necessarily a 'crime scene' - it is where an event or incident took place. It has not been determined if a crime occurred until after the official investigation is complete -- and even then, that could be conclusively inaccurate. Suicides are not crimes, accidents may be - such as some motor vehicle collisions. Second, as Karen pointed out, there will almost ALWAYS be multiple scenes. In fact, I would say ALWAYS! If the incident involves a person, and a place and a thing -- those are at least three scenes. Driver, intersection and vehicle. Not just the driver, not just the intersection and not just the vehicle. They are all integral pieces of the puzzle - of the investigation. Unfortunately, more often than not, all that is requested is to 'go to the scene' (intersection). If the official investigation were limited to the intersection, the attorney-client would be all over the inadequate and, frankly, incompetent investigation. In your report, document specifically what the assignment and instructions were. Not every time will you get to see each of the integral components - or scenes - but recommend that all efforts be tried. In addition, don't limit yourself (i.e. your investigation and your client's case) to the immediate and instant scenes. Canvas the neighborhood, find other drivers from statements and reports that were at the intersection. I once found a bicyclist who happened upon a scene from no more than a responding paramedic remembering that his friend, the bicyclist, was already on scene giving aid but left before giving a statement.
We have all learned that there are as many variables to an incident as there are witnesses, distractions, attentiveness, and perspective. Every person has various functioning capacities of the five senses. Interviews and investigations should be conducted that inquire into each of these senses. Perhaps a nearby vehicle driver was on the phone and only saw the vehicles impact, but the passenger heard the sounds of skidding and saw the impact. As Karen described in her article, perspective is different, environments change. A four-way intersection has at least four different perspectives. That does not take into account every vehicle, occupant, position, lighting, attention and other important considerations. The investigative and interview process needs to cover each of these.
As private sector investigators, we primarily re-investigate official investigations. There are examples of primary cases conducted by our profession, such as workplace investigations. We will dissect and analyze everything (you do, right?) and are very critical of the official investigation. So critical, that if we find nothing askew, we tell our client (you do, right?). However, in all investigative processes we learn that there are different perspectives from the law enforcement perspective. Their job is ... law enforcement. If they have reason to believe a crime has been committed, that may lead to investigatory measures to determine reasonable suspicion. That is a perspective that many investigators in the private sector do not have. That continues through probable cause and filing of charges. Each person along that path has a perspective -- from the first responding law enforcement officer to the investigator, then to the prosecuting attorney and presiding judge. Ultimately the perspective of the jury may be the final outcome. Our initial concern are that of the investigative process. Without seeing the perspective, accurately or otherwise, of those involved in the official investigation, you simply assist the client with the prosecutor's office or judicial process. Think outside the box, enhance all of your senses, and use all of your education, training and skills. Do not limit your investigation to a preconceived conclusion or goal. If you feel you have found the facts to prove the preponderance of your client's case, that is not enough. It is not enough for law enforcement to reach probable cause, that is making an arrest and charge - hoping for a conviction.
In the private sector we have the advantage of being able to sit back and see the investigative process and evidence from a unique perspective. We are not first responders, under pressure or working a caseload that causes us to lose focus. However, all investigators - public, private, business, etc., all have a responsibility to conduct AND complete the investigative process. All investigators are fact finders and seekers of the truth. We do not decide the truth, that is up to another, but we do intend for our facts to be seen in the same truth by others as we see for ourselves.
Our agency offers FREE consultations to any private sector investigator on how to begin a proper scene investigation. Associates@Forensic-Investigators.com or (970) 480-7793