Difference Between a Death Investigator and a Crime Scene Investigator

Elizabeth Ortiz, MS, F-ABMDI

If Gil Grissom were a real individual instead of a fictional character in the all too popular CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, he would have put a stop to the outlandish job roles described. As a Medicolegal Death Investigator (Death Investigator) I cannot convey to you how many times individuals have assumed I was a crime scene investigator. A crime scene investigator has a different background, knowledge, and expertise than what I have, but ultimately we work together to be the voice of the decedent.

A crime scene investigator has jurisdiction over the entire crime scene with the exception of the body. Vice versa, the Death Investigator only has jurisdiction of the decedent and not anything else. A crime scene investigator will have to document, photograph and collect all items deemed important to provide evidence of the crime and hopefully lead to a conviction. The crime scene investigator specializes in blood spatter, trajectory analysis, reconstruction analysis, and chemical interactions/reactions. They are able to forensically prove what a suspect of the crime is acknowledging with regards to the crime and also prove what is not the truth.

After a crime has been reported and the scene has been secured by the first responding officers, the crime scene investigator works in conjunction with the lead detective. The lead detective and the crime scene investigator must have a close relationship due to the fact that each one addresses what they believe to be of evidentiary value. This is where the saying of “two eyes are better than one” comes into play. What one individual sees as a specific item of evidence, the other person can validate its value or disregard its value.

As a Death Investigator, I must have some working knowledge of blood spatter, trajectory of a bullet, and other things, and be able to reconstruct what took place prior to the death. I am presented with the facts as known at the time, and I then have to determine if they correlate to what I am seeing when I examine the decedent. Most often than not, the decedent and the scene do match. However, I have had the misfortune to identify inconsistencies with regards to the events described. For example, a child was “found” unresponsive in her crib, face up and the parents had advised they had placed the child in her bed in that same position many a times without any indications of problems. Livor mortis (blood settling to its lowest point) showed a different story. The child appeared to have died face down and the blanching areas (blood is void in those areas) indicated many different linear patterns. It appeared as though the child had been placed somewhere else to sleep and subsequently found deceased. It was suspected one of the parents had probably slept with the child and unbeknownst to the parent, the parent might have slept over the child. This is identified as co-sleeping and many infants have died due to this practice. In this particular case, the parents were not charged with a crime but ultimately they have to live with the result of their actions.

Solidly identifying what is in a death investigation requires knowledge and thoroughness, and I feel like as a Regis graduate, the program’s thoroughness has helped me in my achievements as a Death Investigator.

Are you interested in learning more about the Master of Science in Criminology at Regis? Call 877-820-0581 or request more information.