Rifled Weapon Wounds

Intact bullets penetrating the skin orthogonally, that is, nose-on, usually cause neat round holes approx 3-10 mm in diameter. Close examination reveals that the wound margin is usually fairly smooth and regular and bordered by an even zone of creamy pink or pinkish red abrasion. A nonorthogonal nose-on strike is associated with an eccentric abrasion collar, widest at the side of the wound from which the bullet was directed (see Fig. 10). Atypical entrance wounds are a feature of contact or near contact wounds to the head where the thick bone subjacent to the skin resists the entry of gases, which accumulate beneath the skin and cause subsidiary lacerations to the wound margins, imparting a stellate lacerated appearance. Contact wounds elsewhere may be bordered by the imprint of the muzzle and the abraded margin possibly charred and parchmented by flame. Punctate discharge abrasion and sooty soiling are usually absent from the skin surface, but the subcutaneous tissues within the depth of the wound are usually soiled. The effects of flame are rarely seen beyond 10 cm (4 in), with sooty soiling extending to approx 20 cm (8 in).

Fig. 10. Entrance wounds caused by perpendicular (A) and tangential (B) bullet strikes.

Punctate discharge abrasions, which may be particularly heavy with old revolver ammunition, are often present at ranges up to approx 50 cm (20 in). It is important to remember that sooty soiling of the skin surrounding a wound is easily removed by vigorous cleaning carried out by medical or nursing staff. The soiling of contact close-range entrance wounds may be absent if clothing or other material is interposed between the skin surface and the muzzle of the weapon.

Bullet exit wounds tend to be larger than entrance wounds and usually consist of irregular lacerations or lacerated holes with everted, unabraded, and unbruised margins. When the skin at the site of an entrance wound has been supported by tight clothing, eversion of the margins of the wound may be absent and the margins may even be abraded, albeit somewhat irregularly, but nevertheless making differentiation from entrance wounds more difficult.

Entrance wounds caused by damaged or fragmented bullets may be so atypical that it may not be possible to offer a useful opinion as to their nature. It is inappropriate to offer an opinion on the caliber of a bullet based on the size of an entrance wound, and it is not possible to state whether the bullet was fired from a revolver, pistol, or rifle by only the appearance of the wound.

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