Volume 35

Crime Scene Staging: A Denial of Justice

by Samson D. Su

While mass media makes access to information more attainable than ever before, it also provides equal information access to criminals and can expose investigative techniques via forensic science television programs and publications. As a result, crime scene staging is on the rise due to the phenomena known as the “CSI Effect,” which impose unprecedented challenges for death scene crime investigations. Additionally, a large number of case studies have revealed the prevalence of police misconduct in death crime investigations, including inappropriate and reckless suicide rulings based on insufficient or contrary evidence. This not only has severe societal impacts from a public policy standpoint, but also undermines the proper functioning of the entire criminal justice system. This Note will survey a series of death crime case studies that were wrongfully decided, using the high-profile Cobain case as the main case discussion, in addition to proposing possible remedies.

Part I of this Note will brief describe the historical development of crime scene staging, its detrimental impact on crime investigations as illustrated by the Casey Anthoney and Rebecca Zahau case, and the introduction of the “CSI Effects” along with an apparent suicide case study that largely resembles the death scene described in the main case discussion section. Part II will dive into a detailed Cobain case analysis by applying the “Seven Major Mistakes in Suicide Investigation” technique to reveal ample evidentiary inconsistencies that resulted from improper police investigative conduct. It then will draw parallels to a more recent Andreacchio case to demonstrate the prevalence of such ongoing reckless suicide rulings. Part III will propose a set of comprehensive recommendations to reform death scene investigation procedures as well as advocating for a change in law for the Exemption Clause of The Freedom of Information Act. The Note concludes by examining the responsibilities of the legal communities and why lawyers may have an ethical obligation to propose and advocate such reforms in order to address the current investigative defects.


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