There are any number of reasons why a body might be exhumed for forensic analysis but they must first be deemed justified by a judge before an order to exhume will be issued.
It is important to examine first of all why forensics dictates that a body might need to be exhumed. There have been, in the past, mistakes made when it has come to making a proper case for the defence or the prosecution in a murder trial for example: as a result of this important information may have been overlooked or identification of the victim made in error.
Why Exhume a Corpse?As we have already mentioned briefly a corpse may be exhumed for a number of reasons. Here we list the most common:
- Incorrect identification of the corpse
- Incomplete toxicological studies
- Trace evidence missed or overlooked
- Incomplete or improper wound analysis
Incorrect Identification of the CorpseIt may not happen as often nowadays but in times passed the misidentification of a corpse was something that could take place. This normally occurred if the corpse was dressed in a similar way to say a missing person: or indeed if they had a similar height and build. The law says that every effort must be made to correctly identify the deceased before they are given over for burial.
The exhumation of a corpse can help provide valuable DNA analysis as well as blood and tissue samples which can be used to positively identify a corpse that has been buried for some time.
This is also something that is used as an important part of any forensic education.
Incomplete Toxicological StudiesWith so many advances in forensic medicine it is now possible to exhume a body that has been buried for a number of years and take bone and DNA samples to prove if the victim had been poisoned.
In the fifties, sixties and seventies such testing was non existent so unless a pathologist was one hundred per cent convinced the victim had been poisoned – accidentally or otherwise – it was nearly impossible to prove. These new tests enable cases to be tried under law which might have gone untried indefinitely.
Trace Evidence Missed or OverlookedSometimes things happen to the human body that may not have any bearing on an investigation at the time but may prove vital later on. Medicine and science have now begun to work in tandem to provide crucial evidence in murder trials regarding trace evidence which – although collected at the time – may have provided no clue as to motive or indeed killer.
Some trace evidence like pollen from plants or seeds from grass may have originally given no clue to where the crime took place but exhuming the body now that there have been so many advances can have a staggeringly high success rate.
Incomplete or Improper Wound AnalysisAs we have already mentioned forensic science and forensic medicine have moved on substantially as the years have passed. So much so that bodies can now be exhumed in order to pinpoint the exact type of weapon that was used to inflict the killer blow or shot. In years gone by this was not always possible and the law had to make do with the best guess of a pathologist as to what caused death.
Now however with advances in medicine and science which have been incorporated into forensic education and forensics as a whole, such wounds can be accurately identified and the weapon used identified right down to the percentage of metal used in its manufacture.
In essence the exhumation of a corpse may sound like something creepy that should be consigned to the pages of a thriller novel or the big screen but it is something that has helped forensic scientists and forensic pathologists alike provide legal teams with concrete evidence that not everything was as it seemed when the victim died.