Murder investigations are among the most complex and sensitive cases that law enforcement agencies face. How investigations are conducted and how the information they unearth is used is a crucial part of the criminal justice system.
Admissibility of the evidence used to help convict a person accused of murder can frequently hinge on whether the investigation that collected that evidence was conducted on an ethical and legal basis. To do otherwise can result in an obvious avenue of appeal for a person eventually found guilty of murder.
In Queensland, the way police conduct an investigation is governed by the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act (‘the Act’). The Act provides guidance on what police can and cannot do when conducting a murder investigation, in theory to reduce the possibility of such an investigation being open to later legal challenge and also to guard the rights of a person charged with murder.
This article looks at some of the most common investigative tools used by police in murder investigations.
Some of the investigative tools used by police
Police investigative methods encompass a combination of scientific, interrogative, and procedural techniques aimed at collecting evidence, identifying suspects, and building strong cases for prosecution.
Crime scene management: A first step in a murder investigation is the effective management of the crime scene. Police officers are trained to, as best as possible, secure and preserve the scene to prevent contamination and the loss of crucial evidence. This involves cordoning off the area, restricting access, and documenting the initial condition of the scene through photographs and sketches. By maintaining the integrity of the crime scene, investigators seek to ensure that valuable evidence is not compromised.
Forensic evidence collection: Forensic science has become increasingly important as evidence in establishing the perpetrator/s in murder cases. Forensic experts collect evidence such as DNA, fingerprints, bloodstains, and trace materials. This evidence is analysed in specialised laboratories to establish links between the victim, suspect, and the crime scene. DNA profiling, in particular, has played a pivotal role in many successful murder investigations in Queensland.
Autopsies and post-mortem examinations: Examination of the victim’s body through autopsies and post-mortem investigations by forensic pathologists determines the cause and manner of death. Valuable evidence is also collected from the victim’s body, including bullets, stab wounds or foreign substances, which can provide crucial leads in identifying the perpetrator.
Witness statements and interviews: Police officers are trained in effective interview techniques to elicit accurate and detailed information from witnesses, including neighbours and passers-by. These statements can provide crucial insights into the events leading up to the murder and help identify potential suspects.
Suspect identification: Once witness statements and forensic evidence are collected, investigators identify potential suspects by reviewing criminal databases, checking surveillance footage, and conducting background checks. Suspects are then interviewed in order to narrow down the list of possible perpetrators.
Crime reconstruction: To understand the sequence of events leading to the murder, or to prompt possible witness recollections from members of the public, the police may sometimes recreate crime scenes and events based on the available evidence.
Mobile phone and digital forensics: In the digital age, mobile phones, computers, CCTV and other electronic devices invariably contain valuable evidence in murder cases. Digital forensic experts extract information from these devices, including call logs, text messages, emails, and social media activity to gain insight into the victim’s relationships and communications leading up to the murder.
Surveillance and undercover: In cases where traditional investigative methods yield limited results, police may resort to surveillance and undercover operations to gain intelligence on criminal networks or monitor suspects to gather evidence covertly. These operations can be resource-intensive but have proven effective in solving complex murder cases.
Cold case reviews: Many murders remain unsolved for years, if not decades. But in many such cases, investigations remain ‘open’ – cold case units are tasked with conducting comprehensive reviews – often in response to pressure from victims’ families or as a result of advances in forensic technology – which sometimes lead to arrests of historic offender.
The role of experts: Murder investigations often require collaboration with various experts, including forensic scientists, psychologists, and ballistics experts who can provide key bits of information to complete the picture about how the murder happened.
The importance of expert criminal lawyers
At Hannay Lawyers, our award-winning team are criminal law experts. If you or someone you know is involved in a criminal investigation by police, or are family or friend of the victim, a witness, or a suspect, you should seek advice from experienced legal professionals as soon as possible.