The major aspects of the United States (US) Constitution that affect forensic investigators (FIs) include the Fourth and the Fifth Amendments. The Fourth Amendment explains how the FIs can ensure evidence admissibility in court by obtaining search and seizure warrants. The exceptions to the warrant requirements include the existence of urgent situations, the use of the plain view doctrine, and the consent of the suspect or another person with the authority to allow the search. Such cases as Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294 (1967) and Harris v. the United States 390 U.S.234 (1968) show the situations that may allow investigators to conduct warrantless search and seizure. The Fifth Amendment protects suspects from self-incrimination and denial of due process. The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments offer constitutional guidelines on how FIs should carry out their duties. The integrity of the FIs is essential because it helps ensure the objectivity of the evidence, decent analysis of conflicting theories, and fair treatment of all parties.
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Many issues, which range from legal to ethical concerns, affect crime scene investigations (CSIs). The FIs work with present conflicting information. They must treat all of the facts with utmost care because their mistakes may lead to the imprisonment of innocent people or the release of culpable criminals. The US Constitution has various guidelines for FIs and protection clauses for citizens to defend them against actions of the government that may deny justice. This research paper will identify the two most important parts of the Constitution that affect FIs, the constitutional guidelines the FIs must be aware of, and the integrity issues they face at their work.
Two Areas of the US Constitution that Affect Forensic Investigators
The two most critical parts of the Constitution that impact the work of FIs are the Fourth and the Fifth Amendments.
The Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment protects the right of an individual to be secure and have his/her physical and intellectual rights protected (Berlin, 2011). This amendment is crucial for FIs because it relates to how they work at crime scenes. It prohibits FIs from searching and seizing people’s belonging without a probable cause or a warrant. Thus, there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. Additionally, it provides the justice department with the conditions under which it should issue a warrant, which should include a probable course, an oath or affirmation. When issuing the warrant, the judge must determine enough evidence supporting the need for the search. During the issuance of the permit, the judge must ensure that it lists specific areas or people to whom the search is applicable. Even if the FIs have obtained a legal warrant, their evidence may be deemed inadmissible if they conduct investigations beyond their mandate. Although the Amendment seeks to protect the citizens against unlawful actions of the state officers, there are exceptions to its provisions, which enable FIs to conduct investigations effectively.
FIs can search and seize property when there are urgent circumstances. This case forms the first condition that allows warrantless searches and seizures. The contexts under which the FIs can search people and their property without a warrant include a threat to safety and life, a risk of evidence removal or destruction, and the likelihood of the suspect’s escape. In Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294 (1967), the court convicted Hayden of robbery and the evidence acquisition was warrantless (Berlin, 2011). The court held that since the police were in the pursuit of the robbery suspect, their entry, search and seizure of items from his house was valid even without a warrant.
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The second instance when officers can search without the court’s approval is using the plain view exception rule. The doctrine states that when an object is in sight of an officer who is legally in a position to see it, he/she can take and use it as evidence without a warrant. One of the case laws in which the court allowed such search without the warrant was Harris v. United States 390 U.S.234 (1968). Harris was a suspect of a robbery and the police impounded his car as evidence. The regulations of the police department stipulated that the officer who confiscated the vehicle should search it and secure all the valuables in it. During the lawful search, the officer opened the door and saw the registration card belonging to the victim of the robbery lying in plain sight. The card became evidence, but the suspect moved to cover it claiming the activity of the officer was illegal. The court ruled that it was admissible because it was in plain sight of an officer who was lawfully in a position to see it (Berlin, 2011). Another instance when the warrant is not necessary is when a person who has authority provides consent to the search.
The Fifth Amendment
The Fifth Amendment prohibits the law enforcement officers from compelling suspects to provide evidence that may incriminate them. If the FIs present the suspect to the prosecutors for the trial and then he/she pleads a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, he/she may be recognized innocent, especially if cross-examination was the only process to get evidence. Therefore, the FIs must ensure they have the support that can convict a suspect even after pleading the Fifth Amendment (Michelson, 2009). The Amendment also restricts the government from denying citizens the due process. Under this provision, the government officials, including FIs, must respect all the rights guaranteed to the citizens by the Constitution before depriving them of liberty, life, or property.
Constitutional Guidelines for the Forensic Investigators
When FIs are processing a scene and interviewing witnesses or suspects, they must be aware of the requirements concerning these procedures. First, interviewees must provide information voluntarily without coercion as required by the Fifth Amendment (Potter & Kinnee, 2015). Secondly, the Sixth Amendment states that the accused person shall enjoy the right to a speedy trial. Thus, the FIs should collect and process information swiftly so that the suspect in custody will not suffer unnecessarily from the deprivation of liberty before the trial.
In addition, according to the Fifth Amendment, FIs must inform a suspect of his/her Miranda rights to be silent during the arrest, have an attorney during interrogations, and the possibility of having a government-appointed attorney in case of an inability to afford one. The Amendment also prohibits the FIs from retrying a suspect more than once after acquittal through the double jeopardy rule. The FI’s violation of any of these provisions can lead to the suppression of evidence. The FIs must also obtain a warrant to search the crime scene as the Fourth Amendment dictates.
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Integrity Issues in Crime Scene Investigations
Integrity is a vital element of the FI’s work. The initial investigation may provide evidence pointing to a suspect who may have committed a crime. Therefore, the FI may form a belief about the culpability of the person in question. Such a conviction is dangerous because it may limit the investigator’s ability to accept alternative theories as new evidence emerges. In the investigation process, the FI may find exculpatory evidence that may exonerate the suspect. The FIs with no integrity are likely to ignore the evidence because of prior subjectivity, which is not just (White, 2016). As such, they need to have integrity and moral courage to consider alternative perspectives.
The constitutional constraints of evidence collection and presentation may disgust the investigator because some of it may not be admissible due to the procedural breach during collection. Such views may interfere with the FI’s objectivity and ability to seek legally acceptable evidence. The close working relationship between the FI and the prosecutor may lead to the bias in evidence interpretation (Bucholtz & Davis, 2011). Additionally, the FIs with limited integrity may lose focus of their objective findings and allow the prosecutor to diverge from the correct understanding of the facts, which may work against the suspect irrespective of his guilt or innocence. Therefore, integrity and ethics can help FIs to present factual and objective reports so that the courts and the juries can determine their relevance.
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The Fourth and the Fifth Amendments are the critical areas of the Constitution that affect the work of FIs when processing a crime scene. The Fourth Amendment deals with the lawful collection of evidence and the exceptions that allow FIs to disregard the need for a warrant. The Fifth Amendment protects the rights of the suspects against self-incrimination and the denial of due process. The FIs should be aware of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments because they offer guidelines on dealing with suspects, witnesses, and the crime scene. Integrity allows FIs to accept alternative perspectives, maintain objectivity, and treat all parties fairly.