Distance Determinations

You just got the call; a shooting has occurred and as the investigator it's your responsibility to go to the scene and start the difficult job of determining the facts of the case.  Arriving at the scene you find out that the shooting happened at a large party.  You go through all of the steps to document, collect the physical evidence from the scene and then start to interview witnesses. Friends of the victim state the suspect shot him in the back, from across the room. You then interview the suspect and he says something completely different.  He states that the victim and he were fighting over the gun when it discharged. He further says that the bullet struck the victim in the chest.

Who's telling the truth? Who ya gonna call?!?  

Your local firearm examiner that's who!!!

Firearm examiners routinely examine a shooting victim's clothing for bullet holes and other evidence that may allow for a determination of the distance from the muzzle of the firearm to the clothing.

Typical clothing submission.

The evidence is examined first to see if any bullet holes can be identified.  If what appear to be bullet holes are found, an attempt will be made to determine which are bullet entrance holes and which are bullet exit holes.  Determining which hole is the entrance hole is critical because the evidence needed for a distance determination will be on the entrance side.

Testing to determining the distance from the firearm to the questioned garment will come next and can involve two distinctly different tests.  There are tests to determine the firing distance by examining the area around a bullet entrance hole for gunshot residues and then there are cases involving shotguns where firearm examiners will attempt to determine the firing distance through shotgun pattern testing.  These examinations are sometimes referred to as muzzle-to-garment or muzzle-to-target distance tests.

Regardless of the type of test being conducted the goal is to approximate the distance from the object that was shot to the muzzle end of the firearm in question, and in turn, help to prove or disprove certain facts of the case.

Follow the links above or click next below to learn more about bullet holes, gunshot residue and the procedures and examinations conducted in making distance determinations.


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