Are You Providing the Data the Court Needs to See?

By Walter Bentley, March 1, 2016

Two years ago, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Brandon, Manitoba, became the first law-enforcement agency in the province to adopt forensic laser scanning. “We initially bought a single Leica ScanStation to ensure that it would meet our needs and that the workflow wasn’t going to be overly cumbersome, especially the back end of the workflow at the office,” said Cpl. Byron Charbonneau, of the Forensic Collision Reconstruction unit. “We liked what we saw, so we purchased additional units for both the collision and forensic identification side of the business.”

Today, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police owns and operates eight Leica ScanStation PS20s in Manitoba. Charbonneau believes that the technology is “absolutely” worth the investment. “They are investigative tools,” he said. “And going forward, this is the type of data that we really need to acquire—and it’s the type of the data that the courts are going to want to see.”

Scan data gives attorneys new tools

Charbonneau has seen laser scanning technology enthusiastically welcomed by Crown prosecutors, who are reaping the benefits of more data and powerful 3D scene visualizations for court. The interactive Leica TruView freeware is an effective way to show the judge and jury what the scene looked like in 3D. Even nontechnical users can easily view, pan, zoom, measure, and mark up point cloud data via Internet Explorer (or any browser using TruView Global). TruView also features the ability to hotlink audio and visual files such as ballistic reports, witness testimony, etc. “The feedback I’ve gotten from Crown attorneys is that they love TruView because it’s an immersive experience,” Charbonneau said.

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While immersive 3D visualizations are fascinating, the enthusiasm goes beyond the initial wow factor. The attorneys have the opportunity to see the crime or crash scene in a whole new way. “The prosecutors love it,” Charbonneau said. “I’ve also had the opportunity to show it to couple of defense lawyers. It’s a little different for them. One of them in particular said, ‘I love this technology. This is absolutely fascinating high-tech equipment that you’ve got, but, unfortunately, it may make my job a lot more difficult.’ But by the same token, they’ve got more data than they ever had before. They’ve got the ability to get onto a crime scene and see it in a virtual reality. They can rotate through the crime scene. They can look at evidence. They can take measurements. We’ve given them tools they’ve never had before.”

Scan data gives jury members a better perspective

The scan data and 3D visualizations also provide jury members new tools that help them better understand events and interpret evidence.

Charbonneau explains: “When you look at a two-dimensional photograph, you don’t get a true concept of the depth of the image. Whereas with the TruView and the scanner data, you get a true three-dimensional feel for the area, for the room, for the front yard, for the backyard. You can turn around and look at all the objects around you. It gives you much better spatial orientation and a real feel for how far things are away.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘Here’s a photograph of the backyard and the picnic table is 6.5 meters away.’ Well, how can you imagine something 6.5 meters away in a flat two-dimensional image? But when you see it in the TruView in three dimensions and you can simply click on two points and it tells you how far it is a way, it really gives you that spatial orientation that you don’t get from a photograph.

“And when you’re talking about critical pieces of evidence, that’s really important for the Crown, for the defense, for the judge, for the jury. They get a much better sense of what they are looking at.

“A big part of our job is to be able to tell a story to the court. If we can convey the whole story from front to back—not only in words but also in image with Leica TruView and the 3D aspects of it—and do so with complete confidence in our data,” Charbonneau said, “then we’ve done our job.”

For more information on how to improve your crime and crash scene documentation, please contact us.

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About the Author: Walter Bentley has worked in technology and engineering for 30 years. He has a master’s and an undergraduate degree in engineering and is a registered professional engineer in the province of Ontario. Today, Walter applies his education and years of experience to providing geospatial measurement and laser scanning solutions across Canada with special emphasis on the public safety segment.