The way in which the fire investigator approaches the use of witness information, and how a witness statement influences the investigator’s final conclusions, remains a subject of some controversy in the fire investigation community. NFPA 921 supports the use of witness information as a legitimate source of data to be analyzed, but provides conflicting information on just how a witness statement can and should be used by a fire investigator in forming an expert origin or cause conclusion.
NFPA 921 (2014) 18.2.5 AT 187
Recommended Methodology. Investigators, within the scope of their investigations, should consider all aspects of the fire event during the investigation. Witness statements, the investigator’s expertise, and fire-fighting procedures play important roles in the determination of the fire origin.
NFPA 921 (2014) 126.96.36.199 at 191
Witness Observations. Observations by witnesses are data that can be used in the context of determining the origin. Such witnesses can provide knowledge of conditions prior to, during and after the fire event. Witnesses may be able to provide photographs or videotapes of the scene before or during the fire. Observations are not necessarily limited to visual observations. Sounds, smells, and perceptions of heat may shed light on the origin. Witness statements regarding the location of the origin create a need for the fire investigator to conduct as thorough an investigation as possible to collect data that can support or refute the witness statements. When witness statements are not supported by the investigator’s interpretation for the physical evidence, the investigator should evaluate each separately.
Law Review Articles
What Role Should Investigative Facts Play in the Evaluation of Scientific Evidence, William Thompson, University of California – Irvine, Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 2010-25.
None at this time
State of New Hampshire v. David McLoud, No. 2011-809, (NH Supreme Court opinion issued 5/14/2013)
State of Iowa v. Hillary Lee Tyler, No. 13-0588 (Iowa Supreme Court opinion filed 6/30/2015)
None at this time