Seven Mistakes in Suicide Investigations

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When a death occurs suddenly, unexpectedly and from unnatural or unknown causes, a forensic scientist has the duty to gather and analyze evidence to determine whether the victim died from a previously undiagnosed disease or infection or from a homicide, suicide or accident (Lurigio, 2009). When considering suicide as the probable cause of death, we are looking at the act of intentionally killing oneself through one’s own effort or with the assistance of another (Sever, 2009). The resolution of the manner of death by a forensic pathologist as suicide is based on a series of factors which eliminate natural causes of death, homicide and accident (Geberth, 2013, p.55). The cause of death is also determined by the medical examiner in conjunction with the crime scene investigator; however, it can only be determined after a thorough investigation is concluded. Therefore, in the complicated process of doing a death investigation there are several mistakes that should be avoided, which are discussed in Geberth’s article, Seven Mistakes in Suicide Investigation (2013). Mistakes in doing any death investigation affect the integrity of the evidence in determining the cause of death and in its admissibility in court.
Geberth (2013) refers to his book Practical Homicide Investigation where he writes, “All death inquiries should be conducted as homicide investigations until the facts prove differently. Not handling the suicide as a homicide investigation is a significant mistake” (p.55). Going into a crime scene with the assumption that the death is the result of a suicide can lead to mistakes in the investigation and erroneous conclusions as to the cause of death. What appears to be a suicide may in fact be a homicide or an accident. Geberth (...

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...urvivors and any of these people may taint the process by providing “biased” recollections. The most commonly cited limitation or weakness of psychological autopsies is the lack of any standardized procedures for conducting them (Roberts & Baker, 2009, Psychological Autopsy, Limitations of Psychological Autopsies section, para.2). Although psychologists have developed a standardized guide with twenty-six categories to assist investigators in conducting psychological autopsies, not all of the categories are applicable to every case or are considered by every psychologist conducting a psychological autopsy (Roberts & Baker, 2009, Psychological Autopsy, Limitations of Psychological Autopsies section, para.2). Lacks, Westveer, Dibble and Clemente (2008) question its validity and reliability as the accuracy of equivocal death analysis has not been empirically studied.

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