tion varies dramatically across jurisdictions, with the potential for inconsistent policies and procedures and bias. Some analysts say that the lack of standards and oversight can result in deliberate deception of suspects, witnesses, and the courts; fraud; and “honest mistakes” made because of haste, inexperience, or lack of a scientific background.5

In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court held for the first time in Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York6 that a municipality can be held directly liable for violating a person’s constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. section 1983. Partly in response to this liability, most large cities and metropolitan areas created their own professionally trained crime scene units. However, in smaller suburban and rural communities, evidence from a crime scene may be collected and preserved by a patrol officer or investigator. Even in large metropolitan areas, most crime scene investigation units are composed of sworn officers.

Recognizing that some agencies did not have the resources to adequately train all personnel in crime scene processing, in 2000 the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and its Technical Working Group on Crime Scene Investigation (TWGCSI) developed Crime Scene Investigation: A Guide for Law Enforcement, which stated that “successful implementation of this guide can be realized only if staff possess basic (and in some cases advanced) training in the fundamentals of investigating a crime scene.”7 However, there remains great variability in crime scene investigation practices, along with persistent concerns that the lack of standards and proper training at the crime scene can contribute to the difficulties of drawing accurate conclusions once evidence is subjected to forensic laboratory methods. (See Chapter 5 for a discussion of methodologies and Chapter 7 for further discussion of standards and ethics.)


The configuration of forensic laboratories varies by jurisdiction. Some are located within a state police department as part of a statewide system of laboratories and training programs. For example, in Illinois, state law mandates that the laboratory system provide forensic services to law enforcement agencies in all 102 counties (population 12.7 million). Although the forensic laboratory system is part of the Illinois State Police, 98 percent


See J.I. Thornton. 2006. Crime reconstruction—ethos and ethics. In: W.J. Chisum and B.E. Turvey (eds.). Crime Reconstruction. Boston: Elsevier Science, pp. 37-50.


436 U.S. 658 (1978).


Available at www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/178280.pdf, p. 2.

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