Accidental Trauma

It is clear that determining whether trauma is the result of an accident may depend on the "eye of the beholder." For example, it is impossible at postmortem to determine if the injuries were caused by a fall from a window during arrest, were the result of an accidental fall, an intended jump, or a deliberate push from that window because the points of contact during the descent and the contact with the ground will result in the same injuries whatever the initial "cause." Pathologically, the only features of relevance in determining the exact cause of the initiation of the descent are the identification of specific gripping, holding, or other restraining injuries that could have occurred before the descent or the identification of marks or injuries that may or may not be present (for instance to the fingers) that could be ascribed to attempts to hold on to a window ledge. All of the injuries or marks found on the body will have to be correlated with witness statements from both the police and any other parties present at the time of the fall. Often the true interpretation of many of the injuries and marks found during the postmortem will only become clear when these statements are considered.

However, in general terms, accidental trauma can be caused by many events during the course of an arrest. Falls onto the ground may occur from a height or from standing. Gripping and restraining injuries are commonly present on many areas of the body. The site and significance of the injuries that are present will depend on the descriptions of the events before, during, and after the arrest.

It is essential that all injuries, no matter how apparently trivial, present on a detained individual are carefully documented by the forensic physician who examines the detainee whether at a police station or elsewhere. Contemporaneous photographs are always extremely helpful in these circumstances.

In terms of cause of death, few of the minor injuries will be relevant, but they may provide an indication of the extent and degree of the force that was applied to effect an arrest and, as such, they can be of immense value. Injuries present in high-risk sites (e.g., around the neck) must be examined, documented, and interpreted with particular care. All of the injuries must be interpreted in the light of witness statements and can provide useful corroborative evidence.

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