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View Full Version : Can a detective video a murder scene with his phone?



ajaye
03-08-2016, 03:17 PM
At a murder scene I have a dead body, the local rural police sergeant and a detective sent from the city. The forensics team is on their way. Would it be feasible for the detective to video the scene with his phone, or would there be protocols against it? It's set in Australia.

Curlz
03-08-2016, 04:05 PM
why would he do that??

ajaye
03-08-2016, 04:19 PM
I'm not sure why, nor even if he needs to plotwise. It's just something I pictured him doing as I wrote the scene, he's a young metro type guy. That's when I thought oh, I wonder if they'd actually be allowed to do that?

MythMonger
03-08-2016, 05:34 PM
I'm not sure why, nor even if he needs to plotwise. It's just something I pictured him doing as I wrote the scene, he's a young metro type guy. That's when I thought oh, I wonder if they'd actually be allowed to do that?

As long as he doesn't touch anything, I think it would be a great idea to tape the crime scene with a phone. If something gets removed or moved later on, he would have evidence of that.

I have no idea if it would be allowed or not, but you could make that work for your character:
IE
If he doesn't know it's against the rules to tape the crime scene, he's inexperienced.
If he DOES know it's against the rules and does it anyway, he's rebellious
If he doesn't know it's against the rules and doesn't tape it, he likes to play things safe
etc.

cornflake
03-08-2016, 07:08 PM
Why would he do that? It'd likely be against the rules, in a big way.

There's a forensics team.

jclarkdawe
03-08-2016, 07:26 PM
It would be a local policy issue. Probably under the rules for photographs.

However, it would be evidence. It would have to be disclosed to defense counsel, and probably a copy sent to him/her. If it was not disclosed and was discovered, it could get the case thrown out. It would also open the officer's phone to being searched, pursuant to a warrant, by an investigator for defense counsel, to see what else was on it.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

NateSean
03-08-2016, 07:29 PM
I don't know anything about police procedures in Australia, or in the particular region of Australia where this story would take place, assuming policies change from area to area. However, the smartphone and it's various recording applications are being used in police work all the time, so for the purposes of the investigation I don't see why not.

If the detective is posting pictures online, then that's a whole other ballgame.

But here's a thought: just go ahead and have your main character take the pictures. Justify it later during the investigation.

Beth Raymond
03-08-2016, 07:35 PM
You could check to see if there are laws or ethics rules specific to Australia or the related police jurisdiction that forbids it. If you want to set your own rules for it, nothing would necessarily prevent him from doing it and it comes down to the sorts of things MythMonger mentioned--what's his motivation for doing so, regardless of the rules you've set in your story?

Now, if you're wanting the detective to take the video for purposes of later using it as evidence in a trial for the murder, that's a different question--in the US, there are specific procedures for collecting evidence to establish what's known as "chain of custody." Establishing chain of custody is critical for later demonstrating at trial that a piece of evidence is what the proponent at trial says it is. For video, you'd also have to prove that the video wasn't altered. I'm guessing there's something similar in Australia; the forensics team would be following those procedures, so if the detective didn't follow the same, it would make the video's authenticity somewhat suspect.

cbenoi1
03-08-2016, 07:52 PM
The police sergeant at the scene would take note of him taking pictures / filming and lead that to those investigating the crime. Depending on what the investigators have in mind, either they will ask to get copies, or confiscate his cellphone and everything on it because in some cases investigators would want to prevent information from leaking to the public in order to nail a confession from a suspect in custody.

-cb

ironmikezero
03-08-2016, 08:49 PM
It would be to your advantage to check with the appropriate Australian authorities to determine the feasibility (legal restrictions, rules of evidence, agency policy, etc.) of such an on-scene action. Another point that's often overlooked: is it a personal phone or a departmental issued device? There may be no expectation of privacy in regard to any/all data on an agency issued phone. If your character must use his phone (personal or issued) in this manner on a crime scene, I urge you to ascertain the rules of that jurisdiction and get it right; otherwise it can impact the overall credibility of your story. Trust me--get it wrong and there are plenty of us who will notice.

ajaye
03-09-2016, 01:55 AM
Thanks for all the feedback everyone, you've helped heaps. I'll include it for now and see where it goes. If it becomes pivotal I'll seek a definitive answer from the guys in blue.

King Neptune
03-09-2016, 03:56 AM
You might find that the boys in blue have different answers depending on local laws and customs.

Helix
03-09-2016, 04:26 AM
You might find that the boys in blue have different answers depending on local laws and customs.

Fortunately, they're fairly uniform (heh) within and across state borders.

I'd suspect that a detective sent out (from the main station in a rural/remote region? a specialist unit in one of the main regions?) would probably bring some official equipment with him, if necessary.

ajaye
03-09-2016, 05:05 AM
Fortunately, they're fairly uniform (heh) within and across state borders.

I'd suspect that a detective sent out (from the main station in a rural/remote region? a specialist unit in one of the main regions?) would probably bring some official equipment with him, if necessary.

Ah, that's what I was starting to wonder, like just how long they would leave a body where it was found. I have the body being found at night and the detective arriving the next morning. The town's about 4 hours drive from a major city but that can be changed. It would suit if no forensics had to turn up at all and the sarge and detective handle everything. I suppose they could send any evidence off for testing, and the body off to the coroner?

Helix, did you have anything specific in mind for official equipment a detective might bring?

Helix
03-09-2016, 05:24 AM
I was thinking of a departmental still/video camera.

Which state? There are some places where anything could be plausible and, if necessary, you could engineer a situation where they have to move the remains before Forensics gets there with the full gear. And doing iffy things could cause marvellous plot complications. It's just that those sort of things would be more reasonable in an outback WA setting, for example, than in Victoria.

ETA: I'm sure you've already looked into this, but state police services often have quite a lot of info on their web pages. Sometimes it takes a bit of digging, though. Here's the info for the NSW Forensic Services Group (http://www.police.nsw.gov.au/about_us/structure/specialist_operations/forensic_services), which might or might not be useful! Brisbane also has a police museum, which is really interesting, although you'd never guess that from this link (https://www.police.qld.gov.au/aboutus/facilities/museum/).

ajaye
03-09-2016, 06:29 AM
ETA: I'm sure you've already looked into this,

erm, gulp, no. Thank you so much, I'll check out those links tonight.

You're right, if I go remote outback rather than rural there'll be a lot more leeway. This started out as a short story but now I've got my thinking cap on to go longer. The murder takes place in a retirement village/nursing home, so the town needs to be big enough to have one of those but small enough for a one man police station. Hmm, might have to rethink a few things. Hell, I might have to plan this one. :)

jclarkdawe
03-09-2016, 06:47 AM
In Australia, when the crime is four hour drive away, unless restricted by weather conditions, an initial team goes by copter as far as I know.

As far as the body is concerned. How do they know the person is dead? Then how is the death called? Only doctors can declare death, although there a procedure for EMTs to do so which varies a bit from state to state.

Now that we've got the person officially declared dead, the question is whether the medical examiner is going to allow the body to stay where it is or require it be moved. Fresh dead and deteriorating conditions indicate moving. Long dead and/or stable conditions indicate leaving. Where's the doctor coming from to examine the body. Could a local get some of the important details, like condition, internal temperature, and some other data needs to be retrieved as soon as possible.

You need to find someone in the appropriate state or territory. You've got a lot of logistics issues that you have to know what they are. One research method is looking at murder cases in the state or territory of your choice. The news articles will contain a lot of incidental information.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

jclarkdawe
03-09-2016, 06:53 AM
The murder takes place in a retirement village/nursing home, so the town needs to be big enough to have one of those but small enough for a one man police station.

Go for a spa. These can be in isolated areas because of the waters or some other special reason.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Helix
03-09-2016, 07:01 AM
^What JCD said, although four hours from a major centre is nothing! They'd likely bundle people into a car and send them off with a pie and a can of Coke and tell 'em to drive carefully. They might send everyone out on a charter flight, if it's remote. There's always the RFDS, which could provide transport and medical assistance. And who doesn't love a story with Flying Doctors in it?

A retirement home might be a bit more tricky. I picked a random remote town -- White Cliffs, NSW -- and searched for a home near there. It was only a quick search, so might not be exhaustive. I got one hit: Broken Hill!

Helix
03-09-2016, 07:10 AM
And I've just seen JCD's ace idea about a spa town. Lightning Ridge has Artesian baths (http://www.greatartesiandrive.com.au/WalgettShire/LightningRidge.aspx).

ajaye
03-09-2016, 08:10 AM
Go for a spa. These can be in isolated areas because of the waters or some other special reason.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe


And I've just seen JCD's ace idea about a spa town. Lightning Ridge has Artesian baths (http://www.greatartesiandrive.com.au/WalgettShire/LightningRidge.aspx).

Ooh great ideas, thank you Jim and Helix. Looks like my laptop will be overheating tonight, I've got me some research to do (and logistics to confuzzle myself with). Cheers :)

frimble3
03-09-2016, 08:28 AM
FWIW, I know a great reason to have to record the scene immediately, and move the body, but it needs a coastal setting: the tide is coming in, and the body is below the high-tide line. I suppose it could work inland, if the body is in a low-lying area, or a dry streambed, and a storm the nearby mountains is warning the locals that there's going to be a flash flood in the near future.
The outside detective is saying that the forensic team will be along in a few hours, and the locals are telling him that in an hour there won't be anything left to investigate.
So, the camera becomes an emergency measure. And, possibly, a humourously desperate scene of the detective deleting personal stuff off his phone because he knows it's going to be taken for evidence, and copies will be going all through the legal system.

ajaye
03-09-2016, 08:47 AM
Thanks frimble, good thinking, and I love the mad rush to delete the personal stuff.

Treehouseman
03-13-2016, 05:39 PM
Oddly enough I was at an Aussie murder scene two days ago and the Sergeant had a pink digital camera on her and was taking photos for evidence. As were me (different law enforcement agency) on my iPhone and the manager of the property yadda yadda.

Short story, there's now law against it in Australia, but if you are an agency involved in the case, best to pass them on to the Detective dealing with the investigation. Time stamp is good too.

ajaye
03-14-2016, 03:40 AM
That's great info, thanks Treehouseman.

cmhbob
03-14-2016, 05:58 AM
I was just reminded of a story arc in "SouthLAnd" a while back.

Det Lydia Adams and her partner Josie Ochoa arrive at a murder scene of a famous person, or at the famous person's house. Lydia takes a couple of photos with her own phone, and later in the episode, it appears that those shots were leaked to the media. She's temporarily suspended and her phone is confiscated and dumped forensically. It turns out that Adams' former partner Det Clarke) either took similar photos or hacked Adams' phone (I think it was the former) and he was the one who sold the pics to the media. This was season 3, ep 6 "Cop or Not" and ep 7 "Sideways" if you want to try and find it.

Just another thought about how it might be handled.

Treehouseman
03-14-2016, 09:10 AM
That's great info, thanks Treehouseman.

welp, can't find the rep comment you left. Anyway, the answer is something to do with *trains. Also it was a fellow who went under the wheels. Sometimes they jump, sometimes they're pushed :-(

bettybadA
03-14-2016, 09:48 AM
Make sure that it is an Agency issued phones. Personal phones on duty arent allowed. Think confidentiality law. But also your phone can be used as evidence, and most people i know wouldnt want to have that happen because they can then use ANYTHING on that phone even to discredit the person taking the video or others in the case.

Helix
03-14-2016, 10:02 AM
welp, can't find the rep comment you left. Anyway, the answer is something to do with *trains. Also it was a fellow who went under the wheels. Sometimes they jump, sometimes they're pushed :-(

That might have been me, Treehouseman. Thanks!

JohnnyGottaKeyboard
03-14-2016, 03:09 PM
I can only speak for my local jurisdiction (CA in USA). My Sheriff's dept contact asked me, when I asked him your question, "Why not?" He did go on to say that forensically the recording would be on par with notes and almost certainly inadmissible as evidence because of chain of custody questions.

ajaye
03-14-2016, 03:37 PM
Thanks Johnny. This is how I'm beginning to see it, with the phone being like another appendage these days it is the modern equivalent of the notebook. Inadmissable as evidence yes, more a prompter for the investigator. Cheers :)

Treehouseman
03-15-2016, 11:43 AM
Make sure that it is an Agency issued phones. Personal phones on duty arent allowed. Think confidentiality law. But also your phone can be used as evidence, and most people i know wouldnt want to have that happen because they can then use ANYTHING on that phone even to discredit the person taking the video or others in the case.

Last week a police officer advised me sadly that they weren't issued phones (my area is). So a lot of information had to be relayed through private telephones by necessity two weekends ago. You'd have to use common sense before sharing on Facebook though!

And yes, they would be used mainly for investigation purposes, in our area when we wanted pictures to go before a judge the police photographer would come around to ensure chain of custody. (they took FOREVER) Other than that any pictures we took (and I'm assuming what the police members took) were an aid to identification, a mnemonic, a heads-up for another crew etc etc. Most of the time a departmental incident report requires five times the paperwork than that which ends up being put under the judge's nose.