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What is a Forensic Nurse Investigator?

Forensic nurse investigators (FNI) study and examine crime scenes by analyzing a deceased body, bodily fluids and items found at crime scenes. FNIs can also use serological data of bodily fluids at crime scenes to associate them with a person or group.

Forensic nurse investigators are a relatively new nursing career path. Their careers involve handling healthcare issues that involve a medicolegal component. In other words, their job blends nursing science, medicine, law and criminology.

While on duty, FNIs are essentially on-call and should be prepared to leave for a crime scene at a moment’s notice. Once there, they will begin documenting and photographing the body and the surrounding area. They will also interview witnesses and could possibly be responsible for notifying next of kin.

One of the advantages of using a forensic nurse investigator is that is simplifies the chain of custody involved in the collection of evidence throughout the entire process. If evidence ever changes possession during an investigation, it must be accurately documented. If this is done incorrectly, the entire collection of evidence can be in jeopardy of being thrown out in a court of law. Since FNIs can be utilized in so many different ways, they are able to handle many of the steps on their own without the evidence ever changing hands.

Explanation of Fluid Collection

Bodily fluids are divided into two categories: excreted and secreted fluids. Excreted fluids include feces, vomit and skin oil (perspiration), while secreted fluids include blood, plasma, semen, saliva and urine. These bodily fluids can be used to identify crime victims or suspects at crime scenes.

To use bodily fluids as evidence for a crime, forensic nurse investigators must first take samples of fluids present at the crime scene. To do this, they swab, bag and collect the fluid samples in a vial to bring back to the lab. At the lab, the FNI will run a series of tests on the fluid, first to determine if it is in fact a bodily fluid and if so, what type. If the bodily fluid is confirmed, further tests can identify whom the sample came from.

Once evidence is identified, Forensic nurse investigators take careful notes. The type, quantity, and packaging of the evidence must be recorded, along with a description and sometimes diagrams or photographs to show how and where the evidence was found. Perhaps the most important part of the analysis is the detailed notes on test outcomes and findings, which are often used in court.

The Importance of Blood Samples

To some, blood is regarded as the most significant evidence used in courts today. If an FNI can trace the blood evidence from a crime to a potential suspect, it can possibly ruin their alibis or self-defense claims. Even when criminals attempt to hide or clean blood at crime scenes, advances in forensic technology still make it possible for blood to be detected and tested.

If blood has been identified at a crime, the FNI will take a sample back to the lab. They first confirm the fluid and work to verify if the blood is from a human or animal. Once human blood is confirmed, the forensic nurse will test to see whom it came from. Though sometimes blood splatter or patterns can allude to a certain scene or event, blood evidence holds more weight when it can be tied to an individual.

Using conventional serological analysis, FNIs analyze the proteins, enzymes and antigens found in blood. This method of testing is not as conclusive as DNA tests and only works if there is a large sample size to analyze.

Though blood is found at a variety of crime scenes, it is not the only bodily fluid that can be tested through forensic serology. Semen, saliva, perspiration, urine and fecal matter can also be used to identify subjects at crime scenes, but aren’t found as often. These types of bodily fluids are only found in certain types of crimes, and once collected can be more difficult to associate with a person.

Forensic Nurse Investigators that perform serological test help the solve crimes every day. Through the collection and study of bodily fluids at crime scenes, FNIs are able to link the evidence to suspects or victims, which has proven to be authoritative evidence in court. Without serology, analyzing crimes would be much more difficult, making the practice a vital piece of both the nursing and criminal justice puzzle.

With an online Master of Science in Nursing from Loyola University New Orleans, students can gain the knowledge needed to pursue an advanced career in nursing such as a Forensic Nurse Investigator. Learn more about a Master's degree in Nursing online.