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Forensic Investigations.

A forensic investigation is often a complex endeavor involving skill, technology, knowledge, and science. The compilation of factual data, as well as an analysis of those facts is accomplished objectively and rationally. The basic methodology of the forensic investigation will rely on the use of a systematic approach and attention to all relevant details. The use of a systematic approach often will uncover new factual data for analysis, which may require previous conclusions to be reevaluated. With few exceptions, the proper methodology for a forensic investigation is to first determine and establish the origin(s), then investigate the cause: circumstances, conditions, or agencies that led to the occurrence of the subject of the investigation.

Scientific Method.

The systematic approach is that of the scientific method, which is used in the physical sciences. This method provides for the organizational and analytical process desirable and necessary in a successful forensic investigation. The scientific method is a principle of inquiry that forms a basis for legitimate scientific and engineering processes, including forensic incident investigation.

Using the scientific method in incidents will involve the following five major steps from inception through final analysis.

1. Receiving the Assignment. The investigator will be notified of the incident, what his or her role will be, and what he or she is to accomplish. For example, the investigator should know if he or she is expected to determine the origin, cause, and responsibility; produce a written or oral report; prepare for criminal or civil litigation; make suggestions for code enforcement, code promulgation, or changes; make suggestions to manufacturers, industry associations, or government agency action; or determine some other results.
2. Preparing for the Investigation. The investigator will marshal his or her forces and resources and plan the conduct of the investigation. Preplanning at this stage can greatly increase the efficiency and therefore the chances for success of the overall investigation. Estimating what tools, equipment, and personnel (both laborers and experts) will be needed can make the initial scene investigation, as well as subsequent investigative examinations and analyses, go more smoothly and be more productive.
3. Conducting the Investigation. The investigator will conduct an examination of the scene, if it is available, and collect data necessary to the analysis. The actual investigation may take and include different steps and procedures, and these will be determined by the purpose of the investigation assignment. These steps and procedures are described in detail elsewhere in the document. A typical forensic investigation may include all or some of the following: a scene inspection; scene documentation through photography and diagramming; evidence recognition, documentation, and preservation; witness interviews; review and analysis of the investigations of others; and identification and collection of data or information from other appropriate sources. It is during this phase of the investigation that the data necessary for the analysis of the incident will be collected.
4. Collecting and Preserving Evidence. Valuable physical evidence will be recognized, properly collected, and preserved for further testing and evaluation or courtroom presentation.
5. Analyzing the Incident. All collected and available data will be analyzed using the principles of the scientific method. An incident scenario or failure analysis will be described, explaining the origin, cause, and responsibility for the incident.

Reporting Procedure. The reporting procedure may take many written or oral forms, depending on the specific responsibility of the investigator. Pertinent information will be reported in a proper form and forum to help prevent recurrence.

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