Trace Evidence in Court – Singapore and UK Perspectives

Trace Evidence in Court

Trace evidence refers to the residue material left behind when two people or objects interact. They include microscopic items such as body cells and macroscopic items such as hair and soil particles (Dabney & Brookman, 2018). The small size of trace evidence allows its transfer during the interaction between the victim, suspect, and the environment in the event of a crime. In rape and homicide cases, it is a key tool used to establish the connection between a victim, a suspect, and a crime scene (Brookman & Maguire, 2019), and offers reliable investigative details that drive rape and homicide trials.

This research is aimed at providing formalized perspectives on the usage of trace evidence in solving rape and homicide cases in Singapore and the UK. Its specific objectives are:

  1. To highlight the role of trace evidence in crime scene reconstruction.
  2. To highlight the similarities and differences in the legal processes of Singapore and the UK (see Annex B).
  3. To analyze how the similarities and differences in the legal processes give rise to similarities and differences in the identification, collection, and admissibility of trace evidence in the courts of both countries.

To address these objectives, this research utilized a literature review approach to qualitatively analyze two case studies, a rape case in Singapore and a homicide case in the UK (See Annex C). The timeline for these case studies are 2010-2020. Comparing the two countries will facilitate categorizing all similarities and notable differences to offer insightful information on trace evidence’s role in criminal justice. This research is beneficial to the overall criminal justice department as it elucidates the crucial aspects of trace evidence usage and ways of improving the conditions for better outcomes.

Note: Only 2 case studies were analyzed for the purpose of this mini project. 6 case studies (3 Singapore and 3 UK) will be analyzed for the final project.

Based on an analysis of the two case studies (See Annex D), similarities and differences in the trace evidence usage in Singapore and the UK could be pointed out. In both countries, the introduction of trace evidence in a case requires its proper identification, and documentation of the discovery, including forensic photographs when necessary, and offers material relevance to the case in line with all procedural requirements (Thong et al., 2015). Similarly, approaches to reconstructing the crime must take account of the multiple factors and separate actors within the investigative parameters to achieve admissible evidence. During interrogation and prosecution, both countries mandate humane approaches devoid of compulsion in fact-finding, retention, and presentation. The courts also emphasize accurate scientific approaches to authenticate trace evidence. Such measures ensure that unscrupulous investigators do not present forgeries or unverifiable trace evidence in a bid to prove a suspect’s culpability.

The two countries use reconstruction methods that offer transparency in each step and mandate forensic reports from the analysts such as pathologists and lab experts. Such mandates facilitate the court’s understanding of the facts without infringing on the suspect’s rights. At times, courts may necessitate the integration of a practical evidence foundation that reinforces comprehension of the mechanics of transfer for a given trace in the crime’s scenario (Salet, 2017). As seen in the UK case, the neck wound and drill bit completed a mechanical explanation of the murder. Due to the gravity of rape and murder cases, both countries require scientific expertise and experience in trace evidence extraction and analysis. The process may include demonstrations showing how the suspect left the trace evidence and its connection with

other evidence pieces in court. Both countries also involve a pre-trial chamber to allow the prosecution to submit charges against the defendant and allow the court to gain cognizance of the case.

While both countries consider the process of acquiring trace evidence, Singapore offers leeway for trace evidence admissibility regardless of the method used to acquire it. More so when the case proves protracted and unauthorized procedures offered the missing link to bring the perpetrator to justice. The same remains unacceptable in UK and courts will not consider trace evidence obtained un-procedurally admissible despite holding a significant weight in the case. In its presentation, the UK mandates a comprehensive report about its acquisition and accompanying procedures, including the investigating officer’s account (Jones, 2016). However, Singapore courts do not require reports on the trace evidence acquisition procedures but admit affidavits to show the connection between the trace evidence and the suspect.

The findings offer the fundamental differences between UK and Singapore in trace evidence usage and application during trials. The information remains useful to policymakers to enhance the investigative process to avoid protracted cases where trace evidence offers indisputable grounds for conviction. The findings also offer valuable information on the centrality of forensic laboratories to link suspects to the crime by using trace evidence.

The main limitation of this research was the lack of primary data to highlight the studied perspectives. Due to a lack of experimentation, the research relied on secondary information. Thus, the lack of access to the operational and tactical investigators in Singapore and the UK remains a significant limitation. Further, the research was also limited to online search with only one case per country (3 in final project). This offered limited data and constricted the ability to conduct a thorough analysis of results. Furthering the study needs interview integration to obtain first-hand information from investigators in both countries. Future studies may also consider the input of forensic experts to capture the analytical procedures used in trace evidence analysis.

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