Section 2.2: Crime Scene Sketching

Fundamentals of Criminal Investigation by Adam J. McKee

Crime scene sketches are like drawing a map of where something important happened. These sketches help police officers and judges see exactly how things were at the scene without getting distracted by too many details that photos might show. They are really helpful because they show measurements and distances between things like furniture, doors, and clues, making it easier to understand the scene.

The First Sketch

When investigators arrive at a crime scene, they start by making a “rough sketch.” This is the first drawing they make to capture the basic layout and where important things are found. Sometimes, they might need to create more than one sketch, depending on how big or complicated the scene is. This rough sketch is then used to make a more detailed and clean version later.

The Importance of Details

The sketch must show everything important, like where clues are and how far apart things are from each other. This helps everyone understand the space as if they were there. Before moving any clue, investigators take photos and then make the sketch. It’s really important to keep everything as it was to make sure the sketch is accurate.

Measurements in the sketch need to be super precise, never off by more than a tiny bit. This is crucial for indoor scenes, where the size of rooms, furniture, and the position of windows and doors can tell a lot about what happened.

Types of Sketches

Depending on what happened, investigators might draw different kinds of sketches. Some might just show measurements, while others show where things and people were found. All these details need to be exact to help recreate the scene later.

It’s also important to start measuring from a fixed point, like a wall or a curb, to ensure accuracy. With new technology like laser scanners, making these sketches has become even easier and more precise.

Keeping Records

Alongside sketching, investigators take notes on everything: who called the police, when the crime was reported, and details about what happened. These notes are kept separate from the sketches but are just as important.

Asking questions can help fill in the gaps, like how the victim or suspect came and went, what was moved or touched, and if there were any signs of things like broken items or spills.

Why It Matters

Making sketches and taking detailed notes helps ensure nothing is missed and that investigators can piece together what happened. It’s like putting together a puzzle where each piece needs to fit perfectly. This careful work helps make sure that everyone involved in solving the crime has the most accurate information possible.

🔍 Reflect

How do you think the process of making and using crime scene sketches might change in the future with new technology?

Crafting Accurate Crime Scene Sketches

In the meticulous process of crime scene investigation, sketching plays a pivotal role. It provides a precise and clear layout of the scene, aiding in the understanding and analysis of the incident. Let’s delve into how investigators approach the task of creating these crucial sketches, ensuring they convey the necessary detail in an understandable format.

Determining the Right Scale

The first step in sketch creation is selecting an appropriate scale. This scale varies depending on the nature of the crime scene, with outdoor scenes typically using a scale where one inch on the sketch represents twenty feet of the actual scene. Indoor scenes, on the other hand, might use a finer scale, such as one-eighth of an inch representing one foot. The choice between metric (meters, centimeters) or English (feet, inches) units is made based on standard practice or the specific requirements of the case.

Selecting the right scale is crucial to ensure the sketch accurately represents the scene within the confines of the sketch paper. This involves calculating the longest dimension of the scene and adjusting it to fit the sketch paper’s size, maintaining the integrity of spatial relationships within the scene.

Implementing a Title Block and Legend

Title Block: Essential information is encapsulated within the title block, positioned typically in the lower right corner of the sketch. This includes the case number, type of crime, victim’s name, and identification details of the personnel involved in sketching and verifying measurements. It also notes the location and date the sketch was completed, providing a comprehensive header that contextualizes the sketch for future reference.

Legend: The legend is integral to the sketch, offering a key to understand the symbols and notations used. It includes directional indicators, such as north, and defines the symbols assigned to various elements within the sketch, like walls or evidence locations. Importantly, the legend specifies the scale used, ensuring that measurements can be accurately interpreted.

Upon completion of the sketch, revisiting the legend to update and ensure the accuracy of the information is a standard practice. This includes detailed measurements and distances crucial for reconstructing the crime scene. This step solidifies the sketch as a reliable and comprehensive visual record.

Graph paper often serves as the medium for these sketches, with its grid aiding in the precise scaling of scene elements. The use of graph paper simplifies the process of converting real-world measurements into a scaled-down representation, facilitating an accurate portrayal of the scene.

Ensuring Accuracy and Completeness

Accuracy in crime scene sketching is non-negotiable. The sketch must serve as a faithful visual representation that investigators, prosecutors, and jurors can rely on to understand the spatial dynamics of the crime scene. It supplements photographic evidence by providing a scaled perspective of distances and relationships between objects and evidence within the scene.

The combination of a carefully selected scale, a detailed title block, and a comprehensive legend ensures that the sketch fulfills its role as an indispensable tool in the crime scene investigation process. It bridges the gap between raw data and its interpretation, offering a visual narrative that complements other forms of evidence.

🔍 Reflect

Consider the implications of inaccuracies in crime scene sketches on the judicial process. How might they affect the outcome of a case?

Understanding the Types of Crime Scene Sketches

In crime scene investigation, sketches are not just simple drawings; they are detailed representations that serve specific purposes. There are four primary categories of sketches, each with its own use and characteristics. Let’s explore these categories to understand how they contribute to accurately documenting and analyzing a crime scene.

Perspective Sketches

Perspective sketches are all about depth and dimension. They use a vanishing point to show how objects appear in real life, considering their distance from the viewer and each other. This type of sketch is particularly useful for capturing a scene as the eye sees it, providing a realistic view of the spatial relationships and depths of evidence within the scene. It’s like drawing a picture that mimics what you would see if you were standing right there, looking at the scene unfold before you.

Projection Sketches

Projection sketches take a simpler approach by focusing on a single viewpoint. They lay out objects on one plane, making them easier to understand at a glance. The most common form is the overview sketch, which offers a bird’s eye view of the scene, similar to looking down from above. This overview details the floor plan and the placement of evidence within it. The elevation sketch, another form of projection sketch, provides a side view of vertical structures, like the façade of a building or a landscape’s profile. An “Exploded” view is a more complex projection sketch that combines multiple viewpoints, such as showing different walls from a single vantage point, to give a more comprehensive understanding of the space.

Schematic Sketches

Schematic sketches are designed to tell a story, specifically the story of how events unfolded. These are often used to trace movements, such as the trajectory of a bullet. By representing sequences within the crime scene, schematic sketches help investigators and jurors visualize how actions progressed, offering insights into the dynamics of the incident.

Detailed Sketches

When dealing with large scenes, some details can get lost if the scale is too broad. Detailed sketches zoom in on specific areas of interest, providing a close-up view of critical evidence or aspects of the scene that require more attention. These sketches allow for a more focused examination of certain elements, ensuring that no detail is overlooked due to the scale limitations of more comprehensive sketches.

Each of these sketch types serves a unique purpose in the crime scene investigation process, from offering a broad overview to detailing specific sequences of events or providing depth and perspective. Together, they create a multifaceted visual record that enhances the understanding of the scene, supports the investigation, and aids in presenting evidence in a clear and understandable manner.

🔍 Reflect

How do you think the choice of sketch type affects the interpretation of a crime scene, and why might an investigator choose one type over another in different scenarios?

Crafting a Projection Sketch

Creating a projection sketch is a fundamental task in documenting a crime scene. This type of sketch offers a clear and simplified view of the scene, focusing on the layout and the position of evidence within it. Let’s walk through the steps to create an effective projection sketch, which can be either an overhead or exploded view, depending on the needs of the investigation.

Choosing the Right View

First, decide whether you need an overhead or exploded view. The overhead view is the most common and provides a top-down perspective of the floor plan, akin to looking at the scene from above. This view is invaluable for getting a sense of the overall layout and the spatial relationship between objects and evidence on the floor.

The exploded view, while less common, offers a unique perspective by showing both the floor plan and the walls laid out flat. This allows for the inclusion of evidence that might be on the walls, like bullet holes or bloodstains, in relation to items on the floor. Choosing the right view depends on the complexity of the scene and the details you need to highlight.

Drawing the Outline

With the view selected, begin by drawing an accurate outline of the area of interest. This outline should include the perimeter and any approaches to the scene, making sure to use the chosen scale to keep everything proportional. The aim is to fill the sketch paper as much as possible without sacrificing accuracy. This step should be done before any evidence is moved and after all necessary photographs have been taken, ensuring the scene’s integrity is preserved.

When sketching, it’s crucial to include the positions of doors and windows, using curved lines to indicate the direction in which each door opens. This detail adds a layer of understanding to the sketch, helping visualize not just where things are but how they interact with the space.

Consistency in Measurements

Stick to the selected units of measurement throughout the sketch. Whether you’re using metric or imperial units, consistency is key. When noting measurements on the sketch or in accompanying notes, clearly indicate the specific part of the object measured (e.g., middle, near-corner, far-corner). For items like bloodstains, which require precision, measurements are often recorded in metric units, like millimeters, for added accuracy.

It’s also a good practice to have measurements observed and confirmed by another officer or investigator. This step adds a layer of verification to the sketch, ensuring the accuracy and reliability of the documented scene.

The Importance of Precision

Creating a projection sketch is more than just drawing; it’s about capturing the scene in a way that’s both accurate and comprehensible. By carefully choosing the view, meticulously drawing the outline, and adhering to consistent measurement practices, investigators create a valuable tool for understanding the crime scene. This sketch not only aids in the investigation but also plays a crucial role in presenting the scene to those not present, like jurors or other investigators, allowing them to grasp the spatial dynamics at play.

🔍 Reflect

Consider the challenges an investigator might face when creating a projection sketch and the steps they can take to overcome them. How do these challenges impact the accuracy and usefulness of the sketch?

Measurement Techniques for Crime Scene Sketches

Accurately capturing the dimensions and positions of evidence at a crime scene is fundamental to crime scene reconstruction and analysis. Investigators use four primary methods to measure and document scenes effectively. Each technique has its specific applications, advantages, and considerations. Let’s examine these methods in detail.

Triangulation Method

The triangulation method is invaluable for ensuring precise placement of objects within a scene. It involves selecting two fixed points in the environment as reference markers. From these points, measurements are taken to each piece of evidence, forming a triangle. This method is particularly effective both indoors and outdoors, especially in areas where straight lines or clear reference points are scarce. It’s crucial for these measurements to be extremely accurate, ideally within a quarter of an inch, including the height of objects off the ground to provide a three-dimensional perspective of the scene.

Rectangular Coordinate Method

This technique is used when objects can be measured in relation to two perpendicular lines, such as the corner where two walls meet. It’s straightforward and effective for indoor scenes, allowing for a clear documentation of an object’s location by measuring its distance from each of the perpendicular reference points. The rectangular coordinate method simplifies the mapping of evidence in structured environments.

Polar Coordinate Method

Best suited for outdoor locations where a single fixed reference point is available, the polar coordinate method measures both the distance of an object from the reference point and its angle relative to this point. Tools like a large protractor or an optical device can be used to determine the angle, making this method especially useful for expansive or uneven terrains, including underwater scenes. This approach offers a way to document locations when other methods might be impractical.

Transecting Baseline Coordinate Method

When a scene is cluttered with numerous objects or other measuring techniques are unfeasible, the transecting baseline coordinate method comes into play. A baseline is established across the scene, serving as a reference for all subsequent measurements. Objects are then measured at a right angle from this baseline, providing a systematic way to document their positions. This method is adaptable to both indoor and outdoor scenes, particularly those with irregular shapes or lacking natural baselines.

Implementing These Techniques

Choosing the right measurement technique is critical for creating an accurate and useful crime scene sketch. It requires a deep understanding of the scene’s layout and the best approach to capturing its complexities. Measurements should be meticulously recorded, and when possible, verified by another officer or investigator to ensure reliability.

Incorporating these measurements into a sketch involves detailed note-taking and careful planning. Notes should include the time of sketch completion and any environmental or contextual details that could affect the interpretation of the scene, such as lighting conditions or weather.

Upon completion, it’s advisable to mark sketches with a “Not to Scale” disclaimer if they are not drawn to a precise scale. This practice helps mitigate potential disputes in court by clarifying that the sketch is a representation based on accurate measurements, but the drawing itself may not precisely reflect those measurements.


How do the environmental conditions and layout of a crime scene influence the choice of measurement technique? Consider how each method might be applied in different scenarios to capture the most accurate representation of the scene.

Essential Tools for Crime Scene Sketching

Creating an accurate sketch of a crime scene is a critical part of an investigation, providing a visual representation that can be invaluable for analysis and courtroom presentation. The quality and clarity of a crime scene sketch depend significantly on the tools used. Here’s a rundown of essential sketching equipment, each serving a specific purpose in the documentation process.

Basic Sketching Supplies

  • Graph Paper: Offers a grid that helps in drawing to scale, making it easier to maintain accurate proportions.
  • Plain Paper: Useful for preliminary notes and rough sketches before the final version is drawn on graph paper.
  • Pencils: Essential for drawing sketches. It’s good to have a variety, including softer pencils for darker lines and harder pencils for finer details.
  • Eraser: Mistakes happen, and having a good eraser ensures corrections can be made without damaging the paper.
  • Ruler and Folding Rule: For straight lines and precise measurements within the sketch. The folding rule is handy for measuring shorter distances.
  • Oversized Clipboard with Storage Pocket: Keeps your sketching paper secure and provides a flat surface to draw on, while the storage pocket can hold notes, additional paper, and small tools.

Measurement Tools

  • 50- to 100-foot Retractable Measuring Tape: Ideal for measuring larger distances within a crime scene. The retractability feature makes it easy to manage.
  • 1000-foot Walking Wheel: For very large scenes, this tool can measure long distances quickly and accurately.
  • Magnetic Compass: Helps in determining and marking the directional orientation on sketches, which is crucial for reconstructing the scene accurately.

Additional Equipment

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Depending on the nature of the crime scene, PPE (such as gloves, masks, or eye protection) may be necessary to ensure safety while sketching.
  • Flashlight: Essential for illuminating dark areas to ensure all aspects of the scene are accurately captured in the sketch.
  • Notebook: For taking detailed notes about the scene, measurements, and any observations that can supplement the sketch.

Having the right tools not only facilitates the creation of detailed and accurate sketches but also ensures the safety and efficiency of the investigator. Each piece of equipment plays a role in capturing the nuances of the scene, from the general layout to the specific positioning of evidence.


Consider the impact of not having access to one of these tools during a crime scene investigation. How might the absence of a specific item affect the accuracy or detail of a crime scene sketch?


Modification History

File Created:  05/02/2019

Last Modified:  04/04/2024

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