What It Feels Like Inside A Crime Scene — A Detective's POV

Today I have a very special guest joining us. Adam works as a Homicide Detective in southern California. You can learn more about him below. Please be sure to check out his site. It’s fairly new, but he plans to share information that you won’t find anywhere else — from any other investigator. There’s also a glossary of terms. You’ll find links in this post. For your convenience, I’ve also included Adam’s website in my Crime Writer’s Resource page as well as on the sidebar.

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The First Steps in your Murder Investigation

It’s a familiar scene: A dead body is on the floor, blood spatter is everywhere and spent shell casings are strewn about the room.

The first police officer on scene checks the area for the shooter: GOA (link – check out this acronym in his glossary)

The officer then checks the victim for a pulse: DRT (glossary link)

This is a murder scene.

 

The crime scene is locked down, the yellow tape goes up and Homicide Detectives are called. So what happens next?

Before CSI swabs a single blood droplet or a Homicide Detective opens a single drawer, your Detective needs a warrant.

I know what you’re thinking: But this is a homicide scene!

In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Mincey v. Arizona that even though a homicide occurred inside a building, it does NOT give law enforcement carte blanche to search the premises for evidence beyond what is in plain view.

In other words, if investigators want to search beyond what is immediately visible, (things like bullets stuck in walls, blood spatter behind a bookcase, or looking in drawers, etc.) they need a search warrant. To further bolster the warrant argument, the Court ruled that it was NOT reasonable for law enforcement to freeze the crime scene for hours and hours or to bring in scientific experts (that aren’t sworn law enforcement officers) without a warrant.

Meet the “Mincey Warrant.” It’s a relatively short, fill-in-the-blank search warrant for a crime scene. To see what a real one looks like, I’ve posted the Mincey Warrant used in the Sandy Hook homicide investigation on my website here: writersdetective.com

Pages 5 through 8 are the Detective’s “affidavit” (or application for the warrant.) Page 10 is the actual “search warrant” (the order issued by the Judge.)

Further down on my Resources page, you will find more information on Mincey Warrants and the reasoning behind the Supreme Court’s decision.

The next time YOUR Detective responds to a crime scene, consider mentioning the Mincey Warrant to add a bit of realism to your story.

So at this point, the Mincey Warrant has been approved and your investigative team can go into the scene and do all the CSI processing you’ve seen on TV.

But what’s it really like in the crime scene?

 

The image you probably have in your mind is one of important looking people doing important things all over the place: blood spatter experts readying their swabs, CSI photographers photo-documenting everything, ballistics experts plucking rounds from walls and plotting trajectory angles, detectives in suits with little blue booties on their shoes trying not to disturb anything, maybe even a uniformed officer standing at the entrance to the scene with a clipboard. This familiar scene absolutely occurs in real life, but it’s not what the crime scene initially looks or feels like.

Remember in the beginning of this scene (before the Mincey Warrant) where we talked about the scene being locked down and yellow tape going up? That lock down is a time-out; everything stops.

So what you don’t see on TV is what it’s like to be the first one back inside the crime scene. It can be very surreal, like you are stepping around inside a photograph.

I remember the scene of an Officer Involved Shooting where officers engaged suspects fleeing from a jewelry store robbery in a gunfight. The battle occurred in the front yards of a residential street, after the officers’ foot pursuit of the suspects led them into a neighborhood of small houses with decent sized front lawns.

It was after dark when I arrived. The entire street was locked down. Our CSI team had set up spotlights on tripods, illuminating part of the street like a night game on a football field.

Our CSI team was short-handed that night, so I was assisting the CSI photographer by “painting with light” the areas not lit by the spotlights.

We were the only two inside the scene, which was literally an entire city block.

As I slowly moved around the scene with a light source, the CSI photographer kept the shutter on her camera open to capture as much detail as possible.

Everything behind the yellow crime scene tape was in an eerie, real-life, freeze-frame. Time seemed to stop.

A police car was stopped halfway on a lawn with its front doors open. A police motorcycle was on its side in the middle of the street. Spent shell casings were strewn about the street and sidewalk. A jewelry thief lay dead on a front lawn. The only things that seemed to move and make sound were the emergency lights from the police car and police motorcycle. As the police car’s light-bar whirred and clicked, its lights danced across the trees and houses. Everything else in the previously chaotic scene was perfectly still.

How will you capture the surreal feeling of frozen time when your Detective first enters a crime scene?

 

To learn more “real detective stuff,” join my mailing list and follow me on Twitter.

LETechAdvisor

 

Adam R. is a real-life, serving Detective in southern California who also provides technical advising to authors and screenwriters. Adam asked that his last name be excluded out of caution for conflict of interest. To learn more about the realities of police work, and how it applies to creating realistic fiction, visit Adam’s blog: writersdetective.com

On Twitter:  @WritersDetctive

Are you struggling with how your character can commit the perfect murder? 50 Ways To Murder Your Fictional Characters is FREE. You can get a taste and sign-up here, or click the image on the sidebar.

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15 Comments

  1. It’s so interesting that detectives need a warrant even when there’s an obvious murder scene. However, I’m really grateful that we as Americans have our personal lives and property protected in that way. I’m sure it’s a headache at times for police and detectives, but I think that it’s a good law overall. Thanks for this inside look!

    • I found that interesting too, Veronica. I’m sure it is a headache, but we’re all better off, as you say. Thanks for stopping by. I’m sorry for the late reply. Your message got stuck in my spam folder.

  2. Excellent post. It felt like I was right there. 🙂

    Anna from Elements of Writing

  3. Patricia Neary

    Thank you.

  4. Very interesting post on what the crime scene “feels” like. Each scene I’ve been involved in seems different, so it never gets stale. Prison crime scene investigation is a different animal. Great post, very informative.

  5. LE Technical Advisor (@LETechAdvisor)

    Hi guys! Thanks for the nice feedback. I definitely agree with Garry on the smells!!

    To answer Garry’s question about the Mincey Warrant: Yes, since the decision was handed down by the US Supreme Court in regard to the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution, the ruling applies across the United States just like Miranda v. Arizona did with regard to the 5th and 6th Amendments.

    Individual states have their own constitutions, state laws and state Supreme Courts, but those rulings would only affect that specific state. When the US Supreme Court makes a ruling, it’s usually a big deal because it affects everyone in the country.

    -Adam ( a Detective – not a lawyer 😉

  6. Hi Sue & Adam,

    This is great stuff for crime writers, Adam. You’re telling it exactly like it is. Crime scenes, once secured, are very calm, quiet, eerie places – not like you see on shows such as Hawaii 5-0. It feels like your senses are amplified. You’re hearing seems more acute, your visual awareness is heightened, and your sense of smell is on overdrive. And, as weird as it sounds, sometimes you can actually taste the effect of the crime scene.

    One thing that I think most writers who have never actually experienced a real crime scene would forget to describe is the smell. It’s not just the stench of death, especially decomposition. It’s the other smells – gunpowder, smoke and charcoal from a fire, the rotting garbage in some of the decrepit houses where crimes go down, and the bodily wastes that’s often there. (Most bodies void immediately upon death)

    I keep a little reminder about using the senses handy when writing / rewriting scenes. It’s SSSTF for Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste. Feel. It really helps to overview your writing to take in the five senses.

    Also Adam – Interesting about your Mincey Warrant. Yes, I’d say that nowadays warrants are mandatory to collect admissible evidence in every civilized country. I’m wondering if the Mincey format is a federal thing, used universally across the US like the Miranda warning is, or do each state have their own guidelines?

    Thanks again for a great post and thanks to Sue for hosting Adam.

    • Great tips, Garry! Thanks for your input. Before speaking with Adam I had no idea a crime scene would “feel” like this. Which is what makes this post so interesting, IMO. Thanks for the introduction. He’s a great guy!

  7. This is really interesting and helpful! Thanks to both of you. Capturing that almost otherworldly sense of time stopping makes a fictional crime scene more realistic. And it can really add to the suspense of a story. I’m sure that walking back to a ‘locked down’ crime scene has an eerie feel.

    • I’m sure it does, Margot! That’s a large part of what Adam will share on his blog, the “feelings and emotions” of a Homicide Detective. Great stuff!

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