Fire investigations have been part of society since the golden ages. This is because investigating fires allows individuals to find out the original cause of the fire and prevent its occurrence in the future. If the fire occurred accidentally, then it may be necessary to identify likely causes and eliminate them from the market. An example is a room heater without overheating protection. On the other hand, if the fire was an incendiary fire i. e. if it was caused maliciously, then fire investigations allow individuals to capture these perpetrators and punish them for their crimes.
It should also be noted that fire investigations are imperative in public education. This is because they allow members of society to establish hazardous situations or tools and thus warn the public about it. The cost that fires can bring to the economy are enormous thus necessitating investigations. (NFPA, 2001)
Laws and court decisions on fire incendiary, fire analysis and fire investigations Court decisions have affected the level of professionalism in fire analysis and fire investigations. According to the Daubert vs. Merrel Pharmaceuticals , 1993, 509 US, 579, the judge affirmed that the use of fire investigators within the case would only be limited to those who were reliable and relevant. Reliability in this case refers to four parameters; peer review, experience, cases of errors and methodology used. According to the judge preceding over this case, the fire investigators chosen for analysis had to have undergone all the latter steps. This means that the fire investigator must be approved by his fellow fire investigators before giving his/her testimony over a fire.
By doing this, the judge ascertained that fire investigations would be conducted in a professional manner and in a way that would be approved by other investigators in the field. (Lentini, 2001) Additionally, the judge passed that fire investigators must have due experience in the field. This means that they must have conducted fire investigations for a number of times before coming to their conclusions. By making such a proclamation, the judge was ascertaining that fire analyses will be done by competent individuals.
This has affected the practice of fire investigations today because most of the individuals who take part in fire analyses must have had experience in the field. Besides this, the ruling also required that fire investigators giving expert testimony should be those ones who have recorded minimal errors in judgment and also in the administration of the investigation. Lastly, the judge wanted expert testimony only from those individuals who had utilized the right methodology for investigations. All the intricate issues about handling the scene of the crime had to be adhered to.
This ruling brought on other similar rulings and has improved fire analyses and fire investigative standards in the industry Effect of court decisions and laws on controlling an investigator’s access to the scene The law has a substantial effect on a fire investigator’s access to the scene owing to the following. Sometimes a case may be a criminal or civil one. If it is a criminal one, then a wide variety of investigators may be involved in the fire scene; the attorney general, the forensic department etc may all participate in a certain case. This can cause the fire scene to be very crowded and will impede an investigators’ access.
On the other hand, the investigator’s validity and relevance in a certain criminal or civil case my also hinder access to a fire scene. Sometimes, the criminal process itself may also affect an investigators’ access to a fire scene. The law requires that self incrimination be noticed during the process of fire investigations. Besides that, the law also requires that the accused party be freed from counsel offered by any experts around them. Due to these rights, sometimes a fire investigator may not gain access to a fire scene as soon as he may want because he/she may violate the accused’ rights.
Effect of court decisions and laws on collection of evidence Collection of evidence within a scene of fire is largely determined by a number of factors. The law stipulates that in the event that some victims may be present, then fire investigators need to secure their lives first. Safety is more important than any other factor in fire investigations. Consequently, those who fail to secure susceptible parties may be found guilty of a crime. (Ogle, 2000) Laws have also affected the nature of evidence that can be considered admissible in a court of law.
The fire investigative process has evolved tremendously over the past decades. This is as a result of increased scrutiny by public authorities and legal experts. Consequently, there is a need for one to examine all aspects that could be potential causes of fire. Items such as tire impressions, shoe prints, fire patterns, distribution of flammable items in an unusual manner, broken windows and placement of debris are all significant traits in evidence collection. This would not have been the case in the past. Taking the example of the case of Higginbotham vs. Commonwealth, 349, 216 Va, 218 s.
e. , 537, 1975; the accused had claimed that the fire was accidental. He asserted that he had left his room only to find that his mattress was burning up. He gave details about the height of the fire but asserted that it had not reached the bunk. The fire investigator giving expert testimony in the case asserted that the room’s paint had been blistered. The only way that can occur is if the fire had such a large magnitude that it was hot enough to destroy the wall’s paint patterns. The fire investigator revealed inconsistencies with the defendant’s testimony thus resulting in a guilty verdict.
What this case shows is that court decisions and the law have evolved in such manner that collection of the most miniscule evidence can cause a change in legal decisions made. Fire investigators met therefore abide by this. Why accurate fire investigation is important to the public Accurate fire investigations are important to the public and respective authorities owing to the fact that their results form the background against which the cause of the fire began. This is important to public authorities because it allows them to identify cases of negligence.
Some fires may proceed to great magnitudes without any public intervention from authorities. Such officers may assume that the fire will be put out by residents or that it may go off on its own. Such a mentality may cause seemingly harmless situations to become dangerous and destructive forces. If fire investigations are done accurately, then they can reveal such cases of negligence thus causing these officers to be more careful in the future. (NFPA, 2001) Accurate investigations of fires is also necessary in preventing similar fires in the future.
For instance, the public may not be aware of the risk factors associated with certain scenarios. For instance, if a house is heated using kerosene heaters, then it would be hazardous to fill them with gasoline. Additionally, if a room has certain electronics that catch fire easily, then they can be removed from those rooms. All these issues can be easily revealed if the cause of a fire was accurately investigated. While many authorities may be familiar with such potentially dangerous situations, informing the public about them may prove to be futile when the public have not seen the dangerous consequences of such a scenario.
Consequently, educating the public about such hazards after a fire may be more effective than before. Accurate fire investigations are also imperative to the country’s economy because they allow prevention, which eventually prevents economic losses. The US reported close to four thousand deaths related to fire during the year 2000. Besides that, the country lost numerous infrastructural facilities from fires. For instance, residential areas were destroyed, offices went down and automobiles too. The country is losing billions of dollars from fires.
The latter problems occur regardless of whether the fires were caused deliberately or accidentally. If the country becomes serious about finding perpetrators of arson or curbing negligent practices, then the likelihood of fire occurring will be severely reduced. This also means that the country will have saved many lives. The latter can then contribute towards the economy more positively. Besides that, the country will also have saved vast numbers of residential and business infrastructure that can then be made more productive in the future. (NIJ, 2000) Conclusion Fire investigations have evolved over the years.
The role of the fire investigator in court has changed tremendously. Many trial cases only regard expert testimony when it is peer reviewed, non-erroneous, methodological and when it has been conducted by an experienced investigator. These court decisions have affected the manner in which fire analyses and investigations have been conducted. The law has affected an investigator’s access to a fire scene because it requires that due parties be involved in the investigative process. This can cause a lot of crowding and can therefore hamper the accessibility of a fire scene to an investigator.
Court decisions have also affected collection of evidence because they require rigorous attention to detail in the data collection process. Reference: Lentini, J. (2001): Standards Impact: The Forensic Sciences; ASTM Report, February 2001. pp. 17-19 NFPA (2001): Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations, National Fire Protection Association Journal; Issue 8, No. 971, p 43 NIJ (2000): Fire and Arson Scene Evidence: A Guide for Public Safety Personnel; Washington, National Institute of Justice Report; June 2000 Ogle, R. (2000): The need for scientific fire investigations; Fire Protection Engineering Report, Fall 2000, p. 4-8
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