Scenes of Crime

A judicial officer is required to have a high level of imagination as witnesses give evidence he must conjure up a picture of the scene.  It is important that in each case the judicial officer clearly understands what actually happened; in most cases witnesses are able to give clear evidence but there may arise cases of confusion or even dispute.  Either the prosecution , the defence may apply to the court or the court on its own motion may require that a visit to the scene of crime be made by the trial court.  In Olora and others v R it was held that a magistrate exercising his discretion can refuse an application by the defence to visit the crime scene.  The visit is usually necessitated by contention on various factual matters relating to the scene which can readily be verified upon such visit and will not easily be resolved by examination of witnesses.  Irrespective of who makes the application all parties should be informed and facilitated to attend to the visit.

Hoareau v R 1962 EA 644, a magistrate hearing a theft case visited the scene after the close of both prosecution and defence cases accompanied by the prosecution but not the accused or advocate; the CA held that his procedure was fatally irregular and that it offended the principle that justice should not only be done but should be seen to be done.  Any witnesses whose evidence is already before the court but who may be useful at the scene may be recalled.

The procedure at the scene will be the same as that inside a court room and the evidence must be recorded; parties must be given opportunity to examine witnesses.

Closely related to scenes of crime are documentary evidence such as sketch –plans which if prepared carefully will often save the court a visit to the scene.  It is good practice to establish early on in the case whether or not the prosecution will produce a sketch-plan which can then be shown to witnesses as they given evidence.  If there is a sketch plan all the witnesses must be shown.

R v Mohamed the CA said that it was desirable in cases where roads, places, times and distances may be of importance, record immediately and as accurately as possible draw what of at once to prepare a sketch plan to be the investigating officers observe on the spot and is shown to witnesses

Other items related to the scene etc are photographs of the scene, handwriting specimens and other evidence produced by experts.  They must be produced by the persons who dr3ew or took them unless the court gives leave otherwise and they should be clear and relate to the offence charged.  Where there is any objection to the production of such documentary evidence then the court will make a ruling to determine.

Demonstration – this may arise where a witness is asked to demonstrate or estimate distances etc; they must be done in the presence of the accused – see Poole v R 1960 EA 644.  Accuracy of estimates can be ensured by providing specific distances measured form various areas of the court room or court house this could be done by way of a charge  it should not be taken for granted that the judicial officer has an acute sense of estimation of distances.


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