Answering Writers’ Questions about PIs: Crime Scenes, Naming Sources
Posted by Writing PIs on October 13, 2009
This post, we’re answering writers’ questions about crime scenes and naming sources.
Writer’s Question: Is there a time frame that an area remains a crime scene? I’m picturing the yellow caution tape in a public place and wondering how long that remains up. What kind of time frame might apply to a crime scene in a residence (for example, if someone is found dead in a family room, how long do the residents of the house need to stay out of the room?) I’m thinking that from the time the police leave to when a PI shows up, a lot could happen in that room if a family member so desires.
Guns Gams and Gumshoes’s Answer:: A police crime scene excludes all but those who are trained to respect procedures for preservation and collection of evidence. Generally speaking, after a period of approximately 1-24 hours, the area is returned to normal use.
Regarding a crime scene in a residence, specifically (per your question) a dead body found therein: Be mindful that police will remove those parts of the family room that they consider important evidence (for example, blood-stained carpeting and drywall spattered with blood). Also, police will photograph/videotape the family room in the exact state in which they found it. In other words, by the time the family returns and changes anything, the PI will have copies of police photographs as well as access to physical evidence that’s within police custody. There are certainly instances where PIs would still seek access to the home (for example, to photograph the layout, measurements, etc.) but that is accomplished through court order or consent of the victim’s family.
Writer’s Question: Do PIs always need to name their sources? You know how reporters don’t need to name theirs?
Guns Gams and Gumshoes’s Answer: PIs working for attorneys cannot reveal sources without the attorney’s permission. If a PI isn’t working for an attorney, and there is no state statute protecting the PI (for instance, some state statutes create a legal privilege ensuring confidentiality for PIs and their investigative sources), then the PI can be ordered by the court to reveal her source. Under these circumstances, if a PI is on the stand and she refuses to identify how she obtained said information (the source), she could be held in contempt of court and jailed (similar to what’s happened to reporters).
October 19-26, 2009: We’re teaching Crime Scenes, Homicides, & DNA at www.writingprivateinvestigators.com. Class blurb below:
Crime Scenes, Homicides, & DNA: An introduction to crime scenes and homicide investigations (topics include key tasks covered by law enforcement, a general introduction to estimating time of death and types of wounds, and how a PI might be called upon to aid in a homicide investigation). Class concludes with a discussion of DNA, its testing, how it might be deposited by a suspect, and how it’s used in court proceedings. One week, 2 classes, questions answered by email in-between.