Relevance of photographs and drawings to forensic medicine

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In forensic work, photographs and drawings are indispensable. They give more information than several pages of text. When inserted into the autopsy protocol, they provide an objective record and add tremendously to the weight given to forensic testimony.

PHOTOGRAPHS

Photographs should be taken of all potentially important medical evidence that can be photographically recorded. It is always better to take more photos than less. Those which clearly illustrate the main characteristics can be kept and others discarded. The total collection can be organized in order later. Although color photographs are clearly superior to “black and white”, the latter are still widely used in the forensic field. Some courts do not allow color photographs as evidence.

ON THE STAGE

A series of photographs should be taken from different angles. If this is done as a routine, it will prevent a lot of problems down the road. A permanent record of the scene is kept and therefore also of the hypostasis which might change when the body is transported to the morgue. The photograph would document the lie of the body, the condition of the clothes, the material grasped in the hand, the fluids that flow from the mouth, the flows from the natural orifices of the body, the blood stains, the exact position of the weapons, etc.

The photograph of the body and injuries should preferably begin with a full-length view with a ladder in position. If this is not possible, then it should be done in two halves. A full-length scale provides a guide to the position of the sores relative to the soles of the feet. Close-up photographs are taken if necessary. Thin cardboard or matchstick arrows can be used to indicate important sites.

The concept of flat-field photography should be applied to all areas of the body, including close-up views, to minimize distortion. It is desirable to photograph the whole body or part of the body in recognized standard anatomical positions.

The loss of a lot of useful information occurs when photographs are not taken. Nothing can give a better perspective of the scene than a photograph with an intact body with the knife still planted in the chest or back, a rope strangled around the neck, or a “void” next to a victim of a gun for real evidence.

The record of each photograph should include the name of the deceased, the autopsy number, the date, place and time the photograph was taken, and the name of the physician.

AT AUTOPSIE

Photographs are essential for identifying the body, documenting injuries and their location, correlating external and internal injuries, and demonstrating any pathological process.

Photographs of the organs as they are in the body cavity show the relative size and position of the organs. Unfixed organs should be photographed shortly after being removed from the body, otherwise drying, oxidation and hemolysis will produce confusing changes rendering photography unnecessary. Normally, surfaces cut from the inside of organs often reveal the disease process more than the outside. Informative photographs are obtained by posing several raw sections of the organ in series. Illustrative photomicrographs should also be prepared for the autopsy protocol.

IN CLASS

The photographs help the witness to refresh his memory on the discoveries. They help the court to understand the testimony from an appropriate perspective. Relevant photographs enhance the credibility of the evidence, especially with regard to the observations and interpretations they support, for example, the tail of an incised wound indicates its direction; the height and appearance of a gunshot wound indicates the angle of fire; and the trail of blood indicates the path followed by the victim.

DRAWINGS

When photographic installations are not available, a drawing or sketch may be used for this purpose. In some situations, a drawing or sketch can be more effective than a photograph because it can emphasize prominent features and omit disturbing ones. A diagram of a circle of Willis aneurysm, for example, adds a lot to the autopsy protocol.

Printed graphics of body and organ contours can be effectively integrated into the autopsy protocol. Appropriate marks can be made on the sketches to demonstrate the lesion. The legend can indicate the meaning of the marks.

Depending on the scene of the crime, the sketch is drawn. The sketches can be divided as follows:

  • Floor plan
  • Elevation drawing
  • Exploded view
  • Perspective view

Floor plan: This is the most commonly used sketch. The other popular name is the bird’s-eye view. The elements are drawn on a horizontal plane.

Elevation drawing: These sketches represent a vertical plane, such as bloodstain patterns on a vertical surface.

Exploded view: It is a combination of Floor Plan and Elevation View. This type of drawing is generally considered to be a floor plan.

Perspective Drawings: This is the most difficult type of drawing. This is usually done in 3-D. It is little used. This drawing requires some artistic skills.

Drawings / sketches can be used for the following:

  • record the location and relationships between evidence
  • refresh the investigator’s memory
  • complete other documents
  • eliminate confusing and unnecessary details
  • help to understand the crime scene (s) later
  • help interview suspects or witnesses
  • help correlate witness statements

IN CLASS

The court examines the sketches and drawings of the experts. Forensic artists may be called upon to testify in court. They are called as expert witnesses because they have special knowledge of the art and forensic sciences.

As expert witnesses, artists can usually give their opinions and views on the sketch or other art form to help prove a case. Sometimes artists are called to the bar by the prosecution or sometimes they are called by the defense. In any case, they may be asked to explain and defend their own art in front of the jury. The purpose of forensic art is to aid in the identification, arrest and conviction of criminal offenders.

Authors:

Navin Kumar Jaggi

Sayesha Suri

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