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This paper comprises of five chapters. The first chapter provides a terse description of the theft investigation. The second chapter provides the investigative approach in case of thefts. It also provides a detailed account of the evidence which can assist in the thief identification. The third chapter describes the types of evidence that may be utilised in case of a theft investigation and its contribution within the criminal justice system. The fourth chapter provides a case study. The preceding chapter provides the conclusions.
The word “investigation” is derived from the word “vestigare” that means to track or trace. Bennett et.al (2004) stated that an investigation is like a patient, step by step inquiry or observation, a careful examination, recording of evidence or a legal inquiry, hence most of the times it is related to a police investigation
One must understand the definition of investigation in order to conduct or perform criminal investigation effectively. Alifano (2006) stated that an investigation is an examination and a research of circumstances, facts, incidents and scenarios, either connected or not, for the purpose of obtaining evidence of a conclusion. Therefore an investigation is based upon a complete evaluation and not estimation, supposition or speculation.
The main purpose of investigations is to establish the truth, where and what exactly had happen; when and how had happen, who was the perpetrator and why he had done such thing but it does not stop here, it also involves the collection of evidence so that the perpetrator is brought infront the court in order to proof his guilt. So even little objects or clues are of an extremely importance.
Theft is one of the most common crimes all over the world. Blair (2012) stated that more than half of crimes report in Netherlands includes theft. Carrara defines theft as taking other belongings without their consent in order to make a gain. This definition is utilized by Magistrate Edwina Grima in a Gozitan Court Sentence case number 67/2010 known as the Police vs Paul Stephen Debono.
There are various types of theft such as purse snatching, pick pocketing, theft from coin machines, shoplifting, bicycles/motor vehicles theft, theft of objects from buildings and other movable property, mobile phone theft, jewelry theft and tips container from a restaurant. Theft of electricity does not fall within this definition because the Maltese jurisdiction does not consider electricity as an object or thing. Theft includes both small value objects such as a mobile and also high value objects. It also includes invaluable objects such rare paintings.
The possession and the selling of stolen property is also a crime. Furthermore, article 340 sub-article (c) of The Criminal Code, Chapter 9 of the Law of Malta states that all found property must be reported to the police within three day from the finding or else theft by finding may result.
Article 261 of The Criminal Code, Chapter 9 of the Law of Malta states that the crime of theft may be aggravated by violence, means, amount, person, place, time and the nature of the thing stolen. This shall lead to harsher punishment; therefore the investigation must also include these aggravations in the preparation of the charge.
It is empirical that all factors that constitute theft are fulfilled in order to provide an efficient case which is supported by evidence in front of the court.
The Theft Investigative Approach and Evidence Gathering
This chapter provides the investigative approach in case of thefts. It also provides a detailed account of the evidence which can assist in the thief identification.
In majority of cases, theft investigation starts after the report of the criminal activity to the policeman. Such report includes the majority of the required information for an investigation which is obtained from the victim such as when, what was stolen, the value of the object, and from where it is stolen.
Hence the initial part of the investigation that is the information gathering which is the most critical; since wrong information will lead to wrong conclusions. Despite the fact that the main witness is the victim, other witnesses might provide more information since they might saw this criminal activity from a long distance and therefore have the view of the whole scene. Informants are people who provide information to the police, hence they may provide useful hints and can lead to other evidence but it cannot be used alone. Identifying the witnesses is not an easy function unless they approach the police themselves but this is not always the same since the majority of witnesses choose not to speak up.
If the suspected person managed to escape from the crime scene, it is important to obtain a brief description of thief structure, the vehicles used, the exit direction and the objects taken within a limited time frame. Bennett et.al. (2004) suggested that this information should instantly be transmitted to headquarters so that all the police units are aware with these descriptions in order to facility the identification of the thief.
Afterwards, all the factual evidence has to be gathered in order to assist in reaching the crucial conclusion of who had committed the criminal activity. Therefore it is crucial that the criminal scene is preserved and secured from introdures until the investigation process is concluded by the forensic unit. It should be measured, photographed, videotaped, and sketched. Bennett et.al (2004) stated that in case of injured victims, the medical team has priority in accessing the place where the criminal activity takes place.
There are various types of evidence that can be utilised when collecting information in relation to the crime scene, which are described in the following paragraphs such as interviews, finger prints and DNA tests.
Evidence can be obtained from various interviews with the victims, witnesses and suspects. The latter is known to be the strongest tool within the hands of investigators. If a witness has sufficient information which is deemed to be good evidence in the court, a signed statement should be obtained. Such interviews should properly record the important statements and other observations should be recorded in the notes. Bennett et.al. (2004) defines statement as the legal narrative description of the criminal event.
Holmes. D.W (2002) stated that when the suspect is in a cooperative mood, a formal confession should be taken without delay. Confession is the queen of evidence only when it had been taken in accordance with the law and all suspects’ rights are maintained.
Another type of evidence is fingerprints and footprints which are the best tools in identify the perpetrator. Nowadays, more modern and sophisticated equipment are available, such as 3D scanners which provide a 3D view of the scene. It can reproduce and verify the possibility of such act, hence aid in reaching a conclusion.
DNA tests on hair, body fluid, blood, or any part of the body is another tool which can assist in the thief identification in certain cases. For instant, if a painting was stolen from a church and a hair or a piece of nail was found in the criminal scene, DNA can be useful but one has to bare in mind that many people visited the church and therefore identification of the perpetrator’s may be difficult.
Bowen (2012) stated that although the DNA is considered the most reliable forensic investigation tool which has gained extraordinary results throughout the criminal investigations, it should be supported with other evidence.
Fiber Analysis is when a piece of fiber (cloth) is found on the scene of crime, this is taken to the forensic laboratory where it is tested and it tries to establish whether the cloth belongs to the suspect.
Cross transfers of fiber occur in situations where there is a person-to-person contact and the investigators anticipate that the fiber trace the offender who can be found at the crime scene since he revisted the site after the criminal activity. Ramsland stated that success in resolving the crime often hinges the ability to narrow the sources for the type of fiber found.
Investigations carried out should give the impression especially to the victim, that the work done is useful and that it will lead in obtaining efficient results. Bennett et.al (2004) stated that in case where there is an anticipation of recovering the stolen property or finding the thief, it is important to inform the victim of the situation since all the facts are obtained.
Theft Investigation Evidence Contribution within the Criminal Justice System.
Theft investigation cases is very similar to investigate burglaries, excluding the fact that in theft there is less physical evidence because no illegal or forceful entry had occurred. Physical evidence related in theft might include cigarettes butts, empty hangers’ empty cartons or containers, any object left at the scene by the culprit/s, footprints and fingerprints. Hence, if any type of physical evidence is available on the crime scene, the relevant DNA test may be used to provide an efficient result, if this relevant technique is possible. In fact, Alifano, (2006) stated that the investigator must be aware of the limitations and capabilities of the criminological laboratory and its specialists, and must accept its practices, in order to properly process potential evidence.
A CCTV camera is one of the first tools that may be used in a theft investigation if it is available. Although it only provides a face, the suspect may be identified either by the informants or the victim or by the police. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) (2011) stated that it also assist in identification of other people who were present at the crime scene.
Interviews with the victims, witnesses and suspects is one of the cheapest type of evidence. Information gathered during interview should be analysed and verified by the investigators. The police have the authority to make searches in the suspect’s property for the stolen objects in order to have evidence in the court. The searches should be done in accordance with law.
In court, the investigator is obliged by law to show all his evidence (against and favor) the accused. He has to testimony all the tracks and ways that lead him gathered the evidence. The defense lawyer will be vigilant and ask if the evidence was gained legally and that his client rights were not inflicted, otherwise that prove in not considered valid in court.
Eye witness, the accused confession, fingerprints, footprints, CCTV coverage and fiber analyses can be part or all the evidence. Eye witness will give a good description of what and when the criminal activity had happened. A confession is considered “the queen of proof” and most of the time no other evidence is needed in court. Finger prints/footprints can give a proof that that the accused was at the place of offence and had touch certain objects. CCTV’s cameras can give time, date, and also view the accused making the act.
The main objectives of forensic unit are that every contact with an object found on a criminal scene leave a trace and that every object is different even items produced in mass production. Therefore forensic analysis is deemed to be an evidence.
The following chapter provides a brief description of a Maltese court case where there was a lack of evidence to support the criminal activity.
Paul Michael Kavanagh, from Attard, was charged with the theft of the jewelry and of withholding the employee against her will. The theft took place on 14 December 2009 at around 6.50pm at Classic Jewelers in St Julians,
The Magistrate, Doreen Clarke, said that although that the accused did not convince her with his testimony when stating that he was unaware that the gold was stolen, the police did not present to the court any sufficient evidence that the accused had committed the theft. Therefore, the prosecution officer was not able to charge him for having possession of stolen goods, despite the fact that the stolen gold and the young woman were found in his car.
As reported in the Malta Independent Newspaper (2013) stated that the 31-year-old man who was found in possession of stolen gold was acquitted from all the charges brought against him. Therefore he was not charged with receiving stolen goods.
All the sufficient evidence collected in relation to the suspect should be brought before the court in order to proof his guilt in front of the Magistrate. Therefore the evidence should include a description of what leads to the conclusion that the suspect is the person who committed the criminal activity. Evidence collected should be in line with the legal proceedings, in order to avoid negative outcome that is the charged is not found guilty by the court.
Evidence must be beyond reasonable doubt and must give a credible facts in order to limit the Magistrate’s doubts. A theft investigation should follow intensly the investigation process without shortcuts in order to avoid the accussed acquittal were in reality he is guilty
It is of imperial importance that all steps of theft investigation are performed with patience, determination, persistence and dedication. Therefore, the case should be supported by factual evidence; hence it is crucial that the enthusiasm factor is controlled at all stages of an investigation to avoid wrong conclusions.
- Found Not guilty of theft, despite possession of stolen gold. (2010, December 21). Retrieved December 28, 2013, from The Malta Independent: http://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2010-12-21/news/found-not-guilty-of-theft-despite-possession-of-stolen-gold-285128/.
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