Forensic Investigation: Building up a case

By Avril Eyewu-Edero

The goal of every forensic investigator is to gather the right evidence, ensure the forensic analysis is carried out effectively, results and possible matches are obtained, present the evidence in court, being able to convince the court of the accuracy and relevance of the result of the evidence obtained from the crime scene beyond a reasonable doubt and hopefully ensure the result will be part of the factors to ensure justice is served.

However, what we see in the criminal justice system in Nigeria is a lot of rushed cases with little or no investigation, most times it is only the statement given by the defendant and hearsay which is often unverified or backed up with evidence that is presented in court by the prosecution team, making the trial process difficult for the judiciary.

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The lawyers, judges, or magistrates have to take on the task of asking investigative questions during the trial, asking for evidence during the trial that should have already been in the case file, this often results in a prolonged trial process, we presently experience in Nigeria.

So how do you manage this? Forensic science is based on the theory that every time we make contact with a person or a place, we leave evidence of our tracks, it is this evidences such as fingerprint, documents, deleted emails, DNA, Hairs, Fibers that the investigators can work with to build a case.

For successful prosecution of a case, the investigation team should work with the prosecutor or attorney, someone familiar with the law to help them figure out the best legal means to obtain evidence, the legalities involved in the case to ensure the case is properly built up for prosecution.

For example, in a drug-related case, where a group of people is suspected of selling drugs in a location, the investigation should focus on the element of the crime with guidance from a prosecutor that understands the law.

In this case, the first element is to prove in a drug case is the illegal nature of the substance, this means that the prosecutor must prove that the substance found in the custody of the defendant is, in fact, an illegal controlled substance, this should be done with the help of forensic toxicology to ascertain what the chemical composition of the substance is.

The second element is the defendant’s knowledge of the drug, for this, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant knew or reasonably should have known about the presence of the substance and Its illegal nature, this could be achieved by monitoring the defendant’s movement using surveillance to ascertain the defendant’s involvement in the drug ring.

Then the third element is the defendant’s control of the drug, for this, the prosecutor should provide evidence that the defendant had control over the substance, the substance location and its presence, this element is easy to prove if the substance is found in the defendant’s possession but this can also be ascertained through undercover operations and use of informants.

Using the elements of a crime to build a case makes it easy for the judiciary to understand the case and makes trial easy within the legal bound.

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What we mostly experience in Nigeria is the police submitting a case file after a day or two of collecting statements, then submitting to the prosecutor at the court, and within minutes, the prosecutor is presenting the same to the court.

The investigation is usually not such a quick process especially if evidence obtains at the crime scene needs to be analyzed, suspects need to be interrogated, and importantly for an airtight case to be built.

In other climes, we have seen the police spending months building up a case to ensure they close all gaps that the defendant can capitalize on.

I believe if our criminal justice system especially the law enforcement agents in Nigeria work to build up a good case systematically and thoroughly, we would have a more effective and quicker prosecution process.

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