|Criminal law Forensic science Criminal justice
The criminal justice system exists to ensure adherence to laws and regulations that govern human conduct in society. It works through three significant components whose activities and personnel are integral to delivering justice. While law enforcement agencies work by upholding law and order in the community, courts interpret statutes, and the corrections department rehabilitates convicted criminals. The input of each of these arms determines the criminal justice system’s effectiveness and its capacity to promote fairness and justice for all people. Law enforcement officers are the first people involved when a crime occurs. Some of their general duties include arresting lawbreakers, investigating crimes, gathering evidence, protecting it, and testifying in court if required. A standard policy across the system is that persons accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty. Due to this understanding, the collecting, tagging, labeling, and safeguarding of evidence obtained from crime scenes is a vital task. Therefore, it is necessary to examine the importance of these procedures and what happens when officers fail to follow them.
Law enforcement agents, particularly from the police department, respond to crimes and play a significant part in determining what happens next. Besides apprehending suspects, police officers have to investigate the criminal act and gather evidence that the prosecution presents in court. When the officers arrive at a crime scene, they can collect and use the two types of evidence to prove that a suspect committed the deed. The first category of evidence entails accounts obtained from individuals who witnessed a crime taking place. The observations of witnesses usually help the police fill gaps and analyze what happened. The second classification comprises tangible commodities that can undergo analysis in the crime labs to provide answers about the crime. Physical items are a critical part of evidence collected from crime scenes since they inform the police and courts about the crime scene (Gehl & Plecas, 2017). The examination and interpretation of details obtained from the items provide facts and helps judges determine whether the accused is guilty or not. Thus, evidence from crime scenes is valuable and must be handled following specific guidelines.
Police departments have specialist officers known as crime scene investigators whose expertise is to identify, collect, tag, and store physical items to help solve the crime. The evidence recovery technicians have the necessary qualifications and skills to handle evidence as per the existing procedures and guidelines. Upon arrival at a crime scene, the technicians ensure that the officers have cordoned off the area and created a perimeter. Once the scene is secure, they start collecting items relevant to the investigation and committed crime (Gehl & Plecas, 2017). They bag the evidence into different containers based on the material and tag them. The labels used help in identifying and classifying the evidence later during analysis. The investigators and police officers who come into contact with the evidence make up the chain of custody (Byrd, n.d.). One of their crucial duties is to ensure that the collected evidence stays protected and does not become contaminated due to failure to follow the correct procedures. Hence, the officers oversee the proper tagging and labeling of evidence gathered from crime scenes.
Importance of Properly Tagging and Labeling
Physical items collected when crimes happen do not undergo analysis immediately. Instead, the crime scene investigators gather and store them to allow other experts to review and examine them. The importance of adequately tagging and labeling the evidence ensures easy and accurate identification when various experts go through it (Byrd, n.d.). The gathered material provides information about the crime, the crime scene, and people present in the area during the crime. The teams who go through the items should not misidentify them. Crime scene investigators gather a variety of objects that they deem relevant to the investigation. They cannot overlook some things since, in forensics, the tiniest details can make the most significant difference in interpreting the crime. The experts have to gather the materials and allow for proper investigation and analysis to take place. Therefore, it is essential that the people involved in reviewing the evidence during later dates easily identify the materials and classify them appropriately when examining them.
Crime scene investigators must obtain evidence from the crime scene only. The technicians are not allowed to gather items from outside the crime scenes and include them among the materials used to interpret the crime. The importance of adequately tagging and labeling evidence from a crime scene is to provide proof to various parties that the material presented in the courtroom is similar to that obtained from the scene (“The Right Way to Tag and Label Evidence,” 2018). When appearing before the judge and the jury, the prosecution has a burden to prove that the accused person is guilty of the committed crime. However, the defendant’s side can use tactics such as discrediting the material used in the court to nullify the prosecution’s arguments. By accurately tagging and labeling the evidence, the investigators eliminate the chances of defendants arguing that the material is different from that obtained from the crime scene. Hence, following the correct procedures is necessary to ensure the evidence remains relevant and admissible in court.
One of the problems that arise in handling evidence that compromises the effectiveness of the criminal justice system is tampering. Evidence tampering entails the contamination of material integral to the case, often by law enforcement officers. However, it is an issue that arises unintentionally and intentionally, depending on the situation’s context. The value of properly tagging and labeling evidence is that it reduces the probability of mixing materials and tampering with evidence (“The Right Way to Tag and Label Evidence,” 2018). When collecting the items from a crime scene, the investigators have to categorize them depending on different characteristics such as chemical and physical properties. This approach ensures that specific materials do not mix and ruin the evidence making it impossible for experts to analyze it. It is crucial for crime scene investigators and police officers who handle the physical items to ensure that they preserve the evidence’s integrity. Thus, accurate tagging and labeling are necessary to maintain the evidence in its original state.
Materials gathered in the crime scene do not stay in one section of the police department forever. Since the criminal justice system works through three different components, there is a movement of evidence, especially from police custody to the courtrooms and back. It is a critical process since the parties involved must present the evidence in court and use it to argue their case. The amount of physical items in evidence rooms in police stations is vast. It implies a possibility of confusion when technicians and officers move the products to and from the courts. Properly tagging and labeling evidence is crucial as it reduces the likelihood of confusing the items during the evidence transfer process (“The Right Way to Tag and Label Evidence,” 2018). Hence, the marks and labels are crucial in providing specific details about the evidence to the officers responsible for the case and transferring evidence.
Another benefit of properly tagging and labeling evidence is safeguarding the overall credibility of the material. Credible evidence is reliable, and officers can present it in a court of law to support specific theories and arguments. The dependability of the evidence determines its applicability in the courtroom. Crime scene investigators and detectives may identify crucial pieces of evidence that will help solve the crime. The material can be valid and dependable at the time of collection. However, failure to mark it correctly can become a basis for dismissing its use (Gehl & Plecas, 2017). To avoid such scenarios, officers must adhere to particular guidelines that govern how law enforcement agents handle evidence. The people involved in gathering, tagging, and labeling evidence must use consistent methods. Therefore, officers should not compromise evidence’s credibility by failing to follow a particular system as the errors inhibit justice delivery.
Consequences of Mishandling the Evidence
Problems in the collecting, tagging, labeling, and handling evidence have far-reaching consequences and affect how cases proceed. The criminal justice system strives to uphold fairness for all people by relying on strict procedures throughout the case stages. Every suspect has a right to a fair trial, and the parties involved use the evidence to either prove one’s innocence or guilt. When the personnel mishandles or misplace evidence related to a particular case, it can lead to a mistrial. Lawyers can argue that the judge should dismiss the case based on officers’ failure to follow procedures (“The Ripple Effect of Mishandled Evidence,” 2019). The errors are a grave concern since they inhibit the system from working as required, and criminals may not be held accountable for violating the law. Therefore, faults leading to mishandling and misplacement of evidence compromise the integrity of the justice system.
The forensics department and the crime labs in police stations are integral divisions that contribute to investigations and crime-solving. Their work is critical in assessing the validity of various physical items gathered in the crime scene. The experts help officers to analyze things such as DNA swabs, hair, fingerprints, and blood. The information obtained from the analysis is vital in understanding how the crime happened and who was involved (Gehl & Plecas, 2017). When the officers present the materials in court, they have to prove that it is relevant to the case and uncontaminated. Given the structure of the justice system, the burden of proof is the prosecution’s responsibility. Failure to show that the evidence got collected, labeled, analyzed, and stored as required can invalidate it. Hence, forensic experts and officers can harm the case due to the mishandling of evidence.
A distinguishing feature of the criminal justice system is its ability to solve crimes and hold offenders accountable for their actions accurately. An effective justice system can convict the guilty parties and spare innocent persons from going to prison. One of the significant problems that plague the criminal justice system is wrongful convictions. Research shows that several people are serving lengthy prison terms due to official indifference to innocence and error among the personnel expected to uphold justice (Equal Justice Initiative, 2020). Wrongful convictions are among the poor outcomes of errors in collecting, tagging, labeling, and storing evidence. People accused of crimes can be innocent, yet the steps used in managing evidence support the narrative that they are guilty. When evidence is skewed due to mishandling, innocent people are sent to jails and prisons while the criminals go unpunished.
Incidents of evidence tampering, mishandling, and mislabeling create the impression that police divisions and forensic departments are not reliable sources of information in the courtroom. The public needs to trust and have faith in the system if they are to honor laws and procedures used to regulate human conduct.
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