From the crime scene to the autopsy table: comparing the different steps involved between the United States of America and Belgium
Janssens, Lies Marjolijn
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In Belgium, approximately 75 homicides a year go unnoticed. In addition it is estimated that 5 - 10% of the so-called natural deaths are not natural at all. This amounts to 5,000 – 10,000 deaths a year with an incorrect cause of death. Both Belgium – composed of three regions, three communities, and ten provinces – and the United States of America – divided into 50 states – are overseen by a Federal Government, and their police system consist of multiple law enforcement agencies. When looking from a distance, more similarities than differences are seen for the organization of law enforcement agencies. However, differences become apparent when analyzing the responsibilities of the different agencies during crime scene processing and evidence collection. Seen the scope of the forensic science program, the focus will more specifically be on the process, procedures, and actors involved. The goal of this thesis is to (a) analyze the Belgian and U.S. crime scene investigation system, (b) compare the two systems to one another, (c) discuss the weaknesses and strengths behind each system, and finally (d) come up with recommendations. Existing issues will also be evaluated and their impact will be discussed. To achieve the above mentioned goals, information was obtained through literature review and interviews with experts. During the interviews information (e.g. books), not available to the general public, was obtained. Crime scene investigation, for both the U.S. and Belgian system, can be divided into 5 different steps: the initial notification, the first response team, the investigation of the crime scene (documenting, collecting, and processing evidence), the analysis of collected evidence, and the autopsy. In both systems, first responders and emergency medical services will be the first actors present at the scene. Although most procedures and actors involved in the investigation of a crime scene are similar between the United States of America and Belgium, some differences cannot be overlooked. These differences are: the person in charge of completing the death certificate, determining whether or not jurisdiction is accepted, the educational background and composition of the crime scene team, the investigation of the deceased, the requirements needed to become a forensic pathologist, and the cases in which an autopsy is systematically performed. Comparing both crime scene investigation systems showed that each system has its own strengths, weaknesses, and issues. The comparison also showed that both systems can learn from one another, since the combination of already existing processes and procedures, from both crime scene investigation systems, was used to create an “ideal” crime scene investigation system.
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