What can the Gardaí do to preserve a crime scene?
When a Garda is in a public place (or anywhere else they are permitted to be) and they suspect a crime has been committed, they have certain powers they can use immediately while waiting for a senior Garda to designate the area a crime scene. They can take the following steps to ensure vital evidence is not lost at the scene:
- Seal-off the crime scene using notices, markings or barriers
- Direct people to leave the crime scene
- Remove anyone who fails to comply with their direction to leave the crime scene
- Direct people not to enter the crime scene
- Permit any authorised person to enter the crime scene
- Prevent someone from removing anything that is (or may be) evidence
- Prevent someone from interfering with the crime scene or anything at the scene
- Secure the crime scene from any unauthorised intrusion or disturbance
- Search the crime scene and examine the scene and anything at the scene
- Photograph or otherwise record the crime scene or anything at the crime scene
The Gardaí at a crime scene must ask a Garda at the rank of Superintendent or above to designate the area a crime scene as soon as possible. The powers listed above are only available to Gardaí at the crime scene while they are waiting for this to happen.
Direction to preserve a crime scene
The Superintendent’s direction to designate an area a crime scene can be given orally, but must be recorded in writing as soon as possible. This written record must contain:
- A description of the place designated a crime scene
- The date and time it was given
- The name and rank of the Garda giving it
- The grounds for believing that the direction is necessary
Crime scene time limits
A Superintendent’s direction officially designates a place as a crime scene. This direction lasts for 24 hours from the time it is given, if it applies to privately owned property and places. If the crime scene is in a public place, it is not subject to any time limit.
What happens if the 24 hours expires and the Gardaí are still examining
If the 24 hours expires and the Gardaí are still examining the scene they have two ways to extend the crime scene period.
They can apply to the District Court for an order to continue the direction for a further 48 hours. This can be done three times, which means the District Court has the power to extend a direction for a total of six days.
The Superintendent who applies to the District Court must satisfy the Judge that:
- A direction designating a place as a crime scene is in force
- There are reasonable grounds for believing that there is, or may be, evidence at the crime scene
- Continuing the direction is necessary to preserve, search for and collect evidence
- The investigation of the offence that the evidence relates to is being conducted diligently and speedily
Alternatively, the Gardaí can apply to the High Court to extend the amount of time a place can be designated as a crime scene. They must meet all the criteria needed for a District Court application, see above. They must also meet one extra condition, this is that exceptional circumstances should exist. The High Court can make an order for any period that it considers appropriate. The period will be specified in the order.
If my home, business premises or property is designated a crime scene do I
have any rights?
Yes. Before the Gardaí apply to the court to extend the amount of time your property will be designated as a crime scene they must give you notice of their intention to do this. You can then object to the order, though it is unlikely that a court would refuse to grant the order. However, the court may attach certain conditions to the order. These conditions are designed to protect your interests as the owner or occupier of the place designated a crime scene.
Penalties and offences relating to crime scenes
When somewhere has been designated as a crime scene, the Gardaí have absolute control over that place. It is an offence to obstruct a Garda or fail to comply with the directions of a Garda when they are exercising their powers at a crime scene. You may be liable to a fine not exceeding €3,000, or imprisonment for up to 6 months or both.
You should get legal advice for more detailed information on this.