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What is a Criminal Investigation?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 16, 2024
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A criminal investigation is an official effort to uncover information about a crime. There are generally three ways that a person can be brought to justice for a criminal act. First, and probably the least likely, the individual will be driven by his conscience to immediately confess. Second, an officer of the law can catch him in the act. Third, and most common, a criminal investigation can identify him as suspect, after which he may confess or be convicted by trial.

In most cases, when a crime is committed, officials have two primary concerns. They want to know who committed the crime, and what the motive was. The reason why a person breaks a law is called the motive.

The motive does not always come after identifying the perpetrator in a criminal investigation. Sometimes the motive is suspected or known and used to catch the criminal. This is often true with crimes such as kidnappings and murders. Notes or other forms of evidence may be left that reveal why the crime has been committed.

Criminal investigations are usually conducted by police. There are other official agencies that have the authority to investigate and launch criminal charges. In the United States, these include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Police and other officials may use a variety of methods to conduct criminal investigations. Sometimes they work with their canine co-workers. They may also use various scientific techniques such as fingerprint and ballistics analysis.

A controversial investigation method sometimes employed in the US is the use of informants. Many people disagree with this practice because these individuals are generally criminals who are looking to get out of trouble or to reduce their punishments. It is therefore argued that they can be influenced to say or do whatever will please those investigating the case.

There are some parts of a criminal investigation that police may not be able to handle. Some cases require investigation techniques that demand specialized knowledge or training that the investigators or their colleagues may not have. This means that the police may have to employ others to help them. This is especially true with deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing. Although this technique is popular, it is often performed by third-parties.

A criminal investigation does not always yield results. Sometimes suspects are accused only for it to be determined later that they are not guilty. At other times, an extensive criminal investigation may not produce any suspects. This can mean that no one will be punished for the crime that was committed.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon320475 — On Feb 18, 2013

I am a young Zambian investigator who is interested in investigation.

By anon307416 — On Dec 05, 2012

What is DNA evidence?

By anon306369 — On Nov 29, 2012

But what if the crime scenes are manipulated before the investigation? I think it takes time before the crime is discovered. And what about the motive? Would those motives be approved in court or by the police?

By comfyshoes — On Sep 04, 2010

Icecream17- I heard that you can get an internship with the F B.I as well. I would highly recommend that because the experience will be invaluable and you may consider an F.B.I. career after you graduate.

The F.B.I. conducts all sorts of criminal investigations. They are often involved in white collar criminal investigations that can include an IRS criminal investigation, mortgage fraud, and money laundering.

F.B.I agents tend to specialize in a particular area within the criminology field.

Also, getting a private investigators license will help you learn investigative techniques as well. Many states require that you work with an agency for a period of two years in order gain licensure. Working with a criminal investigative service like this will get you up to speed fast.

By icecream17 — On Sep 04, 2010

Oasis11- Forensic criminal investigation, which refers to DNA data collection is very interesting and can be rewarding if the crime is solved as a result of the forensic evidence.

This is why people chose this field because they want to seek justice for the victim and the fast paced nature of the job also creates an exciting field where someone can make a positive difference.

Many schools offer criminal investigation classes at various criminal investigation colleges. It is best to seek a four year degree in the field of criminology in order to gain enough experience to enter the field.

By oasis11 — On Sep 04, 2010

Sunshine31- I think it would be a really interesting career to focus on DNA criminal investigations.

It is amazing how much information some items from the crime scene could obtain. DNA evidence is very definitive because the DNA patterns that are investigated are very unique.

This means that if there is DNA evidence it would be almost impossible to argue against the evidence because the lab results would prove that it could only be one person and the accuracy is usually 99.9% correct.

By sunshine31 — On Sep 04, 2010

A criminal investigator starts off by conducting criminal investigations for both misdemeanor and felony cases.

He or she also has to gather evidence and present it to the prosecutor which is known as pre-trial evidence.

The criminal investigator also testifies in court regarding the evidence that he or she has gathered.

For example, DNA criminal investigation requires an attention to detail because often most criminal cases hinge on the DNA evidence.

The DNA evidence could come from anything left at the crime scene, but investigators usually focus on hair samples, blood samples, and something as simple as a cup that the suspect may have drunk from.

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