Jul 11, 2019 in Analysis

Criminology: Case Study Project

Introduction

Forensic characterization of crimes as a scientific category in its development has undergone periods of the almost universal acceptance and use. Nevertheless, there was also a proposition to exclude it from the number of concepts used in science. Nowadays, numerous scientists, including Wikström and Treiber as well as Albert, Chein, and Steinberg believe that the concept of criminological characteristics has a great practical significance and is crucial in theoretical terms. In particular, forensic characterization methods are applicable to the cases of murder, which is a serious crime against the individual, which presupposes deliberate causing death to another person. Prevention, detection, and investigation of homicide are some of the most important tasks of law enforcement. Considering the foregoing criminal cases, they always require a large number of investigative actions and search measures, which should be prepared and carried out in a limited statutory period. Therefore, the investigation of murders should be proficient in forensic investigation techniques of this category of crime. Meanwhile, the issue of disclosure of the crimes committed is one of the most complex and fundamental in criminology. Remaining unsolved murders create conditions for growth of the social danger of criminal activity. The murder is a crime that always leaves marks and evidence. Therefore, it is vital to analyze how the key elements of the exact incident, namely the victim, the place of the murder, the killer, and the murder weapon, interact and affect one another. This case study also explains whether the law enforcement legally obtained the physical evidence because there is a need to provide legal constraints of the investigation process. In addition, the paper presents and highlights both strengths and weaknesses associated with various aspects of the investigation of the Ashly Smith’s murder case. 

Reflections on the Case

The study of the violent crime incident report calls into question whether an investigation procedure was effective or not. A set of conditions that establish an investigation process may help to carry out problematic issues of such a criminal case. The analyzed report contains a description of different aspects of the criminal case, such as the information about crime scene and interviewees (family, friends, suspects, and witnesses), narrative information, investigator’s response, evidence diagnostics, and so forth. All these details are informative and give hints to investigation discovery and discussion.     

The current report describes the homicide incident. The victim was a 14-year-old girl named Ashly Smith. Two truck drivers found  body accidentally. Furthermore, the investigation process found two suspects, but there some issues that stayed unclear. Further discussion will follow the analysis of the evidence and investigation support to explain debatable issues of this case. 

Discussion

Various circumstances of the commission of the homicide determine the quantity and quality of the material that is available for the police to collect during subsequent investigations. 

Crime Scene Investigation and Analysis of Evidence

Place of murder and place the body was discovered are an important source of information about the manner, the mechanism, and the environment of the crime commission. Furthermore, it provides data about the identity of the perpetrator and the victim. According to the case report, an appropriate discovery of the place of murder and a clear description of the observed scene give a vivid picture of a crime place. Crime scene and place of discovery of the body are often the same place, which increases the chances for a quick establishment of the facts. The observation helped to declare that the murderer attacked the victim in the parking and then dragged her into the woods. The examination of the victim’s body revealed several stab wounds on her neck, abdominal area, and the back.   

During the conduction of examination of the corpse, forensic medical experts should be particularly careful to describe all the objects that are in close proximity to the corpse. In addition, they should note the state of the surface on which the dead body lies. Then, experts should proceed to the examination and the description of clothing available on the corpse. In particular, they should take into account all components of the clothes, the season, weather conditions, the availability of the upper and lower clothing, dirt on garments, and clothes damage. In the case of Ashly Smith, the forensic medical experts conducted the examination during the observation of the crime place. They found clothes damage and dirt on the garment; however, these details were not as clarifying as compared with body damage. Furthermore, experts should pay particular attention to the identification and description of injuries on the body and clothing. Moreover, they should establish criminal or other traces of killer actions. Thus, it is necessary to take notice of the number, location, relative positioning of damage, shape, size, and character edges and corners of such damages.

During the examination of the corpse, the attention should also be paid to the circumstances indicating the possibility of staging or moving corpse. From this case, one can assume that the murderer may have committed a crime at the nearby place and then transferred the corpse to the place of its discovery. In particular, the experts found some evidence, which was further examined in the laboratory. It was necessary to develop the case procedure, which was valuable for possible future comparative identification. This recommendation transformed into a mandatory requirement in case the person killed is not installed or was suspected of committing any crime. 

Since this inspection is associated with the detection and removal of traces of biological origin, it is advisable for the specialists in forensic evidence to participate in it. It is necessary to consider that traces of blood at the scene have not only the forensic value, as they could assist in clarifying circumstances such as a crime scene. Due to the analysis of the report, there was a Medical Examiner, who concluded that Ashly Smith suffered 34 stab wounds. In addition, the medical expert stated that the murderer did not inflict abdominal wounds post-mortem. Later microscopic examinations of the swabbing showed the presence of sperm in the victim’s vagina and the anus. Blood analysis indicated no illegal drugs, but the alcohol content was positive. Therefore, the expert concluded that Ashley Smith’s death was homicide due to strangulation and multiple stab wounds.   

One can further outline an appropriate observation of the crime place and the victim’s body. It helped to gather the evidence of the scene and to conclude the cause of Ashley Smith’s death. Every detail was documented in accordance with the law policy and has a great influence on further investigation procedure. 

DNA is a powerful tool for law enforcement in the identification of possible suspects. DNA and other forensic evidence may be able to identify who was at a crime scene or with the victim, but it may not necessarily identify the guilty party. Investigators still should rigorously investigate cases and evaluate forensic and another evidence to understand exactly what happened. Law enforcement agencies rely on various arrangements to ensure the analysis of DNA, knife, confession, and another forensic evidence. Concerning this case, DNA test was obtained in a legal way. Both suspects were matched to the male DNA from the victim. In the question of confession legacy, because of the procedure, there no any illegal issues relevant to victim or witness interviews. As for the knife, this evidence was not found not near the victim’s body, but was matched to the personalities of suspects. Thus, there is no reason to believe that all these evidences were obtained in an illegal way. Unfortunately, some special circumstances can prove it wrong. Anyway, in this case, suspects did not make any type of defense with regard to these questions.    

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Investigative Steps and Strategies 

In accordance with the criminal law procedure, the investigator decides on the beginning of the investigation and investigative actions. At the time of the adoption of this decision, an investigating inspector assesses the current situation of the investigation. Such actions should be careful and planned systematically. Moreover, the investigative strategy comprises such elements as the crime scene, forensic, pathology, witness, family liaison, suspects, media, passive data analysis (telephone calls and lifestyle information), and search. In this case, there is an absence of the reconstruction investigation strategy, which would be possibly informative with regard to the scenario of the crime. Besides, two principal aims, mainly the satisfaction of legitimate requirements for information about the murder and victim’s family contact, supported the investigation strategy of the current case.   

The effectiveness of the investigation depends on several basic principles, including the preservation of the scenes, the security of the evidence, victim’s identification, and identification of suspects. 

Preservation of the scenes. At the initial stage of the investigation, there is a need to appoint a forensic examination of the corpse to address some issues. As mentioned earlier, a crime report declared the establishment of prescription of death, availability of external injuries on the body of the subject, and the nature of the damage. Anyhow, there was no information about the possibility of a victim to make actively targeted actions with the damage caused. 

Based on data derived from the crime scene, there was a conduction of a forensic medical examination to study of physical evidence (blood, sperm, DNA). In the early stages of an investigation, witnesses are an important source of the material. Focused questioning at the crime scene afforded an opportunity to secure material by identifying witnesses and other scenes.

Security of the evidence. It is crucial to note that the security of the information related to the homicide supported the whole procedure of investigation. It made it possible to receive tips during the collecting interviews and filter information from anonymous callers. Such details influenced the overall procedure of further investigation. Particularly, the interview with one of the suspects, Scott Jones, gave a more detailed picture of his familiarity with the crime scene. 

Victim’s identification. The identification of victims enables investigators to instigate actions, which may lead to the early identification of suspects. First, the investigators questioned witnesses and those who had reported  the incident to establish the victim’s identity as soon as possible. However, the information obtained failed to help identify the murderer directly at the crime scene. In attempts to identify the victim, the investigators checked attendance rolls of a local school. School Resource Officers, who provided yearbooks, had recalled a runaway of Ashly Smith. The photo of the girl was not comparable to a victim’s face because of an amount of blood present. Further follow-up questions to victim’s mother gave a description of a large mole in the middle of her neck. In this way, the victim was identified as Ashly Smith. Thereafter, her mother gave a detailed interview, which also helped to identify the victim’s clothes and provide the case with other specific information about Ansley’s behavior. 

Identification of suspects. As mentioned in the case report, the interview with relatives and friends did not assist in identifying the suspects. On the contrary, anonymous calls gave the major tip, which led to two suspects Scott Jones and Frederick Johnson. Lately, investigators found out that both suspects were close friends. They defined the connection between the victim and these two suspects due to useful information about the car and the appearance of males.     

In most cases, the detection of signs of concealing the murder points out understanding of the value of a killer and is an important element of proving the subjective side of the offense. Therefore, the murderers may utilize such methods of concealment as the concealment of the corpse, the destruction of instruments and other traces of the crime, a false alibi, and non-criminal offense. For this reason during the first interview, Scott Jones was not provided with information about the homicide and was misinformed about the main aim of the interrogation. It was a right choice to collect the first data from the suspect. His stories during other meetings were changing every time and he tried to give a new meaning for them. During the last interview, he said: “Regardless of what I haven’t told the truth about, I didn’t kill her”. Jones denied the fact of the murder until the end. Anyway, his way of behavior was interpreted against him, which ended up with a charge of the 1-degree murder. Nevertheless, the charge on the 1-degree murder should have been proven with much more evidence because the evidence and the crime data presented did not confirm it.     

On the other hand, deformation of moral and legal consciousness characterizes juvenile offenders. This awareness of duty and conscience rests on personal desires or group solidarity, orientation for a momentary pleasure, indifference to the feelings and sufferings of other people, or even the desire to assert oneself by hurting the weak. Such offenders see criminal prohibitions as formalities and ignore the social role of the law, which distorts the understanding of permissible and impermissible behavior. The characteristic features of emotional and volitional young offenders include attenuation of feelings of shame, lack of restraint, mendacity and no self. Jonhson’s behavior during the interview is similar to the one outlined above. 

It is worth noting that not every murder committed characterized by a large number of victim injuries might be recognized as committed with special cruelty. However, the 34 stab wounds indicate that it was a case  of such cruelty. The main thing is not a certain number of injuries, but the objective pursued when causing many wounds. Unfortunately, the interviews did not help to differentiate whether this  kind of a crime was situationally committed without prior training, resulting quarrels, anger, and hostile relations or prepared. 

Interviews and Interrogations 

To get the most complete and accurate picture of the events under investigation during the interrogation of witnesses, it is necessary to ask additional, clarifying, and control questions.

Important sources of evidence are the testimony of the suspect. Interrogation tactics should take into account the evidence collected in the case and the characteristics of the personality. If there are gaps in the evidence, it is necessary to use different tactics of interrogation of the suspect. They may include a demonstration of awareness of the investigator, the implementation of the element of surprise, and "the assumption of a legend". However, the most useful technique is the careful use of the data, which may serve as a source of new evidence. The investigator used all the strategies outlined in this homicide investigation. 

Thus, one can conclude that at the initial stage of the investigation of the murder, investigative actions should aim at strengthening the procedural traces of the crime. Furthermore, other goals include the establishment of the mechanism of the crime, the causes of death, the possible establishment of the perpetrators, their search, and arrest. These steps were effective in this case. 

The objectives of this investigation were a conviction of the killer and proving his guilt. Interviews with Jones serve as an important source of evidence. Furthermore, it is also vital to obtain detailed evidence during the interrogation. In addition, quite often, it is necessary to disprove false alibi.

Determination of motifs and forms of guilt is another crucial part of the investigation at any stage of crime investigation. It is necessary to prove the existence of a certain shape and guilt motive in the killing. Unfortunately, it is still unclear what the motive of this homicide was. Moreover, it is almost impossible to evaluate objectively the actual data about the peculiarities of the environment of the commission of the murder. Especially, it is hard to assess the manner of the murder weapon use,  status and position of the victim, and the behavior of the accused before and after the murder. Therefore, there is a need to identify the character of mutual relations of the accused and the victim, the presence or absence of personal accounts in the past, quarrels, threats, and mercenary or other personal interest in the death of the victim. The suspect, who committed a crime, often does everything possible to avoid punishment or at least to mitigate guilt. Therefore, it is important to ensure the effectiveness of the interrogation before carrying it out. The investigators should collect enough complete and accurate information about the acts of the criminal activities and the individual characteristics of the person questioned. 

The selection of the tactics of interrogation of the accused depends on whether they admitted their guilt in full, in part, or deny it. The interrogation should contain the following circumstances: admission of guilt, familiarity with the victim, alibi, people who can provide testimony, the motive, and intent to kill the victim. However, in the case of the second suspect, Frederick Jonson, those who conducted the interview did not clarify these circumstances. The interview with him was short and excluded any questions with regard to the crime. 

It is advisable during the interrogation to clarify everything concerning a person accused of murder. Despite the exceptional severity of the crime, the court should take into account all the extenuating circumstances, including sincere repentance and truthful testimony. The investigator should explain to the defendant that the fair testimony is of the interests of the accused. Only suspects can explain all the circumstances and motives of the murder, which contributes to the just resolution of the case. Nevertheless, the interviews with accused did not include  these details. 

As in the case of Scott Jones, it is usually easy to confuse the accused with the help of additional questions. It is worth admitting that it is easier to check the detailed testimony. However, most often, the accused fail to fill the gaps with the fictional details, inventing new arguments and plot and, therefore, exposing himself. 

In the case of eyewitnesses’ absence, the special role played by the presentation material and another evidence for the interviewer has a critical effect on the suspect. For example, the investigator can successfully use the testimony of an accomplice, not truthfully telling about the murder while truthfully describing other obstacles of the case. This method allows inducing another accomplice to give full and truthful testimony about the circumstances of the case. Regrettably, the investigators also did not use this method in the interview with suspects. 

Issues to Counter Defense 

There are two fundamental arguments, which the counter defense may use. First, 1st-degree murder defendants have a right to argue that the examination does not prove all elements of a 1st-degree murder charge. In particular, the case should present the facts, which confirm that the defendant killed willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation. Second, defenders can argue that the killing was committed accidentally, as there are no proofs of the murder planning. There is only one interviewer who gave to investigators such a hint; however, there was no confirmation of it. 

Class Experience 

Class experience guided me in the current case reflections and proved to be a useful tool for encouraging self-reflection on learning and practice. Additionally, some class discussions helped and forced me to think about the factors that cause the crime. Finally, the topics we discussed with regard to the assumption of human nature assisted me in driving some of my reflections.

Conclusion 

In conclusion, the forensic characterization of murder is quite extensive, which suggests that the process of investigation should be approached very seriously. It is necessary to take into account all the details. Consequently, the process of investigation of the murder is quite tense and requires a large amount of investigation.

The murder investigation is a rather complex process associated with the conduction of virtually the entire spectrum of investigative actions under the law policy. It requires highly skilled investigators and deep knowledge of criminology.

In view of the above, it can be clearly concluded that during the investigation of murders there can take place quite a number of investigative situations. Nevertheless, these situations can serve as a basis for the consideration of specific investigative situations considered in the investigation of any particular crime.

In this investigation, I found hints and clarifications useful in the procedure of developing the crime investigation. However, I noticed the lack of attention to interweaving the suspects with clarification of the motivation of this homicide. The evidence can prove that these accused are related to the case, but the testimony of the  first suspect, Scott Jones, does not prove the exactness of the scenario of the murder. In addition, other interviewers were not able to give clear information about the case. Emotional reactions should be taken into consideration as well. It can be concluded that the unsolved murders in most cases are the result of poor-quality investigative and search activities at early steps.

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