Webinar presenters Ron Mueller and Dr. John Schultz answered a number of your questions after their presentation, The Investigation and Prosecution of Criminal Vehicular Homicide Cases: Forensics is Our Friend (Part 2). Here are just a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Should we be taking notes via good old-fashioned notepad? Should we be doing a voice recorder should be doing body camera, electronic tablet? What’s your advice?
Ron Mueller: I think all of the above. I mean, those are all good options. Whatever ways that it can best be recorded. I personally like a notepad, so I can write everything down rather than listen to my recordings. There’s the awkwardness of walking around the scene talking to myself. So, I personally would like the notepad. But I’ve seen people use voice recorders, video, and other things. We’re actually going to be testing out crime pads coming up. So, I’m not sure how that will work. Utilizing drop-down menus in electronic notes. But, yeah, a good old-fashioned notepad would be my choice.
John T. Schultz: I’m a sweater and it’s Florida here. So, I’ve been in scenes where I’ve been dripping wet working scene and I’ve had used a voice recorder because I was dripping sweat all over my notes, so they weren’t going to be any good to me later on. So, I think the best thing like Ron said, it’s just being adaptable and flexible whatever the environment gives because we’ve been out there in the pouring rain, things got wet with the pen. But, if you’re under an umbrella with a voice recorder, that’s going to be a little bit easier to bring that and keep that than a notepad. But I do like the notepad, sometimes, you just don’t have that ability. Don’t get stuck in one way of doing things, I guess.
Audience Question: If either or both of you have any recommendations for books or manuals that you would recommend to learn more about the investigation of these types of crimes?
John T. Schultz: We have a whole manual on what we do through our agency, but, as for as a textbook, probably a criminal procedure textbook, per se? —– probably the best way. Anything you have, Ron?
Ron Mueller: So, for traffic crashes, per se, no, I do not. But there are if you’re talking about evidence collection, there are books out there. For forensic evidence, like glass, paint, DNA, and those. The Forensic Science book written by Saferstein is a good one. If you want something for scene investigation, there’s Practical Crime Scene Techniques by Ross Gardner.
Audience Question: Is it better to take still photos or is video becoming the standard?
John T. Schultz: So, we kind of do both now. We didn’t have the camcorders back when I first started, so it’s strictly still photo photography. But, you know, again, I’ve incorporated my dashcam video, my patrol car to give the pattern of travel. I’ve been done people with video recorders at the scene that use those. We’ve incorporated drone aerial photos, but we still always do these still photography photos as well. So, I would just the more you have, the better.
Ron Mueller: I was just going to add still photos, I think are the best to kind of look through for a lot of scenes, because they’re just simpler to go through. But a video gives you more context when you are looking at it. They both kind of supplement each other. In the scenes that we go through, homicide scenes are usually covered with video and photography. I would never replace still photography, it’s a staple.
Audience Question: Ron, you were talking about traffic accidents earlier, and certainly weather can be a factor, so I’m going to ask both of you. What do we need to be considering, or documenting regarding weather conditions or other special circumstances like that?
John T. Schultz: So, in our, in my homicide cases, we do address the weather. So, I’ve had cases where the fog here in Florida is so dense, and I’m sure people are listening, you have some kind of atmospheric conditions. There are weather monitors across the country that are linked in to weatherunderground.com. So, we use a lot from them. Obviously, we’re going to use your witnesses, we always incorporate some kind of question in my interview of witnesses of the weather. Even if it is dry, I always want to cover that base. You want to close that loop. Obviously, if you have weather conditions whether it’s fog, rain, hurricane, you want to address those situations because those will have an impact. But yes, we do have a section on weather ———.
Ron Mueller: It’s kind of standard in your notes to make sure you document the weather conditions because again, two years from now, you’re not going to remember the actual weather.
John T. Schultz: A couple of years ago it was a criminal case, trailer tractors passing other tractor-trailers in a two-lane road here in southwest Florida and the fog was so dense. You cannot see the multiple crashes after the original crash happened. People just kept running into the crash and so the fog was a vital piece to —— file criminal charges. Because of that atmospheric condition, the witness testimony, the fire department couldn’t land the helicopter. It was just well-documented it’s so thick ——— reckless ——-Even though he wasn’t speeding and just passing in that type of condition, the reaction time would not be able to alleviate someone that’s coming out the opposite way to give anybody any time. They hit head-on and they never hit the brakes, there’s no free break, and so that just tells you how dense the fog is because both drivers never saw each other until that very impact.
Audience Question: Relative to the chain of custody, how do you mark glass recovered from the scene?
John T. Schultz: So, for ours, we use a total station, and you would mark each one as a point. But if you don’t have a total station, electronic means, you do the cartesian coordinate system, the X and Y-axis. And I would just, it’s five feet across, its five feet east, four feet south and mark each piece of glass, obviously, with an A, B, C, or 1, 2, 3, whatever you choose. But definitely document it, photograph it. Sometimes, they’re like Ron said —– taillights, gravity comes into play. And most of that glass or taillight in that area, if it’s not run over by other vehicles should be in the strict area. So that way, what is spread out, you’re going to have to document each piece that you think that might be worth of value, that they can put back together.
Ron Mueller: When you collect it, just make sure that you put it in a package that’s clearly marked with the location and other case information. If you use a photo marker or number, make sure that’s on there, and that should be enough. Marking directly on the evidence prior to analysis is not a good practice. Clearly marked evidence packages is the best practice.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of The Investigation and Prosecution of Criminal Vehicular Homicide Cases: Forensics is Our Friend (Part 2).