Our Forensic Photography Academy is starting soon and I thought it would be fitting to write about the photographing of decedents. Although each scene has its unique set of circumstances and characteristics, the type of photographs needed during the investigation process may be different from what is being written in this blog. It’s always a good idea to confer with the investigators at the scene for direction and specific photographic documentation.
When taking photographs, make sure the pictures make ‘sense’: will the jurors know what they are looking at? Will these pictures make sense to the investigator? To the lawyers? Photographs are used to re-create the scene and it is imperative to get it right the first time.
Knots are one the most specific points of photographic value. Make sure to photograph the rope itself, how it was fastened and to what it was fastened upon. Injuries to the neck, as well as the interior and exterior of the area, suicide note, knocked over chairs or any other items. Condition of the body, including feet, face, and hands.
Photograph position of body, position of weapon in relation to the body, suicide note, entrance and exit of the wound, evidence around the wound (such as stippling), hands (looking for gunshot residue), interior and exterior of scene, and medications (if found).
These cases are unique in that the body is your primary source of information. The challenge in drowning cases is to determine if the decedent actually did drown or was he/she thrown into the water after death from another means.
Be sure to get close-up views of the mouth, wounds, hands, discoloration, any debris—such as seaweed—grasped in hands, as well as photographing the entire body.
Follow the Golden Rule: Treat each case as a homicide. It’s better to be wrong then having to go back to re-photograph a scene days or hours after the event (can you say 'compromised scene'?).
Be sure you register for our online course, Investigating Drowning Deaths: How a Body Reacts to Being Underwater and How Can Water Alter an Investigation, which covers evidence commonly found in water-related deaths.