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What is a Crime Scene?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A crime scene is a location linked with the commission of a crime. This can include the site where a crime was committed, or a site where activities related to the crime took place, such as a dump site for a murder weapon or the home of a suspect. These places contain important physical evidence which must be collected to investigate the crime, usually by forensic investigators who specialize in the management of crime scenes.

Once a crime scene is identified, the key concern is securing it to prevent contamination. Sometimes, a site is identified immediately, as when someone is murdered on the street in front of a store, and investigators can promptly move in and secure the site. In other cases, months or even years may elapse before a site is recognized as the scene of a crime, which means that the evidence at the site may be damaged or destroyed, but securing the site is still critical to maintain as much integrity as possible.

Part of the securing of a crime scene is focused on making sure that people access the site in an orderly fashion, and that procedures are followed to ensure that the site remains as clean as possible, so that evidence collected from the site will not only be useful in investigation and also valid in court. If evidence is compromised, it can taint the entire crime scene, potentially ruining a criminal case in court, which is a very serious issue, and cases have been lost in court over damaged or mishandled evidence.

At a crime scene, investigators take numerous photographs to document the site, and they collect physical evidence which may be useful. They may also take advantage of their time at the site to get a feel for the area, and to take note of people hanging around the site and expressing interest, as they may be linked to the crime. Because investigation of a crime scene also contaminates it as people move through, collect evidence, and introduce new materials to the site, investigators move with care, and they do not hurry through the critical early stages of the investigation.

Once investigators have gleaned everything possible from a crime scene, they release it. After release, people can go back to using the site as they normally would. The site may require specialized cleanup to remove dangerous substances, along with the unsavory reminders of a crime, such as the smell of a decomposing body or damage caused by a fire.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By NathanG — On Jun 06, 2011

@SkyWhisperer - I agree that television has glorified this profession, much as it has every other. However, there is one aspect of being a criminal examiner that has not, in my opinion, been misrepresented by Hollywood. That is that it’s not an office job.

You work on site, you collect data, you look for clues and you try to solve puzzles. Maybe you don’t nail each case as often as they do on television, but if you like the thrill of adventure and doing something new every day-and you’re not squeamish at the sight of blood-it might be the perfect career choice to get into.

By SkyWhisperer — On Jun 03, 2011

@GreenWeaver - Unfortunately much of what we learn about a forensic crime scene is through television. Think “crime scene” and immediately you think of a CSI crime scene. You get a more glamorized feel for what the process actually is by watching a television show like that, but you also wind up with false perceptions as well.

Prosecutors, for example, like to talk about what they refer to as the “CSI effect”-basically an expectation on the part of the jurors that crime scene forensics will yield the smoking gun which will nail a case.

Short of that, jurors will acquit. It can be frustrating for prosecutors, because in real life forensics alone rarely is sufficient to nail a case. I served on jury duty once and the DNA analysis that the prosecution presented proved nothing-it was almost useless. The CSI effect has certainly set the bar for prosecutors very high.

By SauteePan — On Jun 03, 2011

@Sunshine31 - I agree with you, but it might not be a bad field to get into if you are unemployed because it sounds like it is an easy field to break into.

The money also sounds good, and I am sure that after a while you get used to the job and are not so squeamish about it. Think about it, police officers prosecutors, and medical examiners all have to deal with the same crime scene so you are definitely not the only one that has to have a strong stomach.

By sunshine31 — On Jun 03, 2011

@GreenWeaver - I think that I would hate to have to do a crime scene clean up. I think that it is so gruesome that I could not be a crime scene cleaner. I would also keep thinking about the crime that took place and I probably would not be able to sleep at night.

I did hear that a crime scene cleaner can earn an up to $80,000 and sometimes over $100,000 a year in large cities with higher crime rates. I was reading that you have to dispose of the remains of a dead body, rip out carpeting and clean off blood from walls while wearing a biohazard suit.

The job does require certifications but I read that most crime scene cleaners have no college education. There are a lot of companies that focus on crime scene cleaning, but I know that I could not handle the physical and emotional aspects of this job.

By GreenWeaver — On Jun 03, 2011

@Sunny27 - I think that crime scene forensics is critical especially when you don’t have an actual body in a murder. Some defendants have been convicted based on strong forensic evidence such as fingerprints and blood stains that put the suspect at the scene of the crime.

I think that criminals always make some sort of mistake that helps make the crime scene investigation easier to solve.

By Sunny27 — On Jun 03, 2011

I think that crime scene photos along with crime scene analysis are critical to any crime scene investigation. I have heard that many criminal cases were lost because the crime scene was compromised somehow and the evidence was tampered with.

Sometimes it is the mishandling of the evidence that causes a defendant to go free because they let some of the evidence degrade. This can be really frustrating especially when it is clear that the defendant is guilty of a heinous crime.

Sometimes even a confession has to be thrown out because the police officer forgot to read the suspect his Miranda Warnings. This is why I think that working in the field of criminology requires attention to detail because mistakes could really cost the investigators and prosecutors the entire case.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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