Crime or Unattended Death Scene

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Law Enforcement agencies are charged with the responsibility of establishing the manner and cause of death for every unattended death that occurs within its jurisdictional boundaries. It is additionally responsible to charge persons who have committed criminal wrong doing in connection with those deaths.

An unattended death is one which does not occur under the direct supervision or treatment by a properly licensed medical doctor authorized to practice medicine within the State of Florida. Criminal wrongdoing includes all direct forms of physical assault resulting in death and the various stages of homicide. It also includes deaths that involve the delivery of certain controlled substances to a victim, gross negligence, and those that arise from criminal conspiracies.

As a result, the need to examine every unattended death and eliminate criminal wrongdoing is the first step in any investigation. Situations that require investigation include but are not limited to:

  • Homicide or Suicide
  • Accidental or Industrial
  • Drowning
  • S.I.D.S.
  • Drug Abuse
  • Physical Abuse or Neglect
  • Negligent Acts that produce Death
  • Unattended Deaths for which a cause of death is unknown
  • The age or lack of known medical history for the victim makes the death suspicious

Examination of the deceased body and the location in which it was discovered will provide vital evidence used to establish what occurred and who may have committed any criminal offense. With the advance of forensic evidence testing at a genetic and atomic level, contamination of the death scene by first responders becomes critical. A balance must be struck between rendering aide likely to preserve the life of the victim and preservation of the potential crime scene needed to convict persons responsible for the wrongful death of the victim. The first and most critical step in this process is establishing if the victim has already died prior to the arrival of first responders.

If there is any doubt as to the possibility of life, every effort should be made to preserve life with the secondary consideration being the preservation of evidence. Experienced first responders may be able to determine the death of a victim using visual observation only, in certain circumstances. Whenever these conditions are present, first responders should intrude no further into the scene than necessary to identify them.

Visually Identifiable as Deceased

  • Massive Trauma (Un-survivable)
    • Decapitation
    • Crushing
    • Incineration
    • Sectioning of the Torso
  • Decomposition
    • Pronounced and marked lividity
    • Advanced decomposition producing:
      • Skin discoloration/slippage
      • Abdominal swelling and discoloration
      • Gas expansion and odor
      • Bodily fluid seepage/pooling
  • Known to be deceased as a result of prior examination by:
    • Physician
    • Nurse
    • Law Enforcement Officer
    • Paramedic or EMT
    • Any person authorized by Florida statutes to pronounce death

Upon confirmation of the above factors first responders should employ the following guidelines:

  • Limit entry to the immediate location of the deceased by no more than one (1) Rescue/EMT/Firefighter and or one (1) Law Enforcement Officer.
  • No Physical Contact with the body unless needed to confirm death.
  • No removal or cutting of restraints / ligature / nooses / knots.

All Other Deaths

Should be assessed according to probability of preserving life. Victims with signs of life should be treated with the primary and overwhelming objective of preservation of life. When conducting initial assessment for the presence of life the following should apply:

  • Minimize changes to the immediate area where the victim is found
  • Do not introduce any items not directly related to medical treatment
    • Blankets/Coverings
    • Food/Beverages/Personal/Tobacco/Personal items
  • Do not cut through bullet holes or other defects in the victim’s clothing
  • Do not remove clothing items from the scene

Victims Pronounced Dead at the Scene

  • Disengage any further contact with the body.
  • Do not reposition, remove, or relocate body from its original location.
  • Do not transport to a medical facility.
  • Do not reposition, remove, or relocate items associated with the body such as weapons, personal property, notes, or any other items comprising elements of the scene.
  • Do not attempt to conceal the victim from view by placing blankets or other items on the body.
  • Document your actions and interactions with the body and scene in your notes.

If you may have left any body fluid (including sweat, saliva and blood) on or near the victim, record this information in your notes and inform the criminal investigator.