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Case Clos3D: How 3D Technology has Proven (and Disproven) Cases

3D technology has come about as one of the most important tools of investigation. Learn how it has proven and disproven cases.

Cartoon depiction of Sherlock Holmes wearing VR glasses

When you do not have eyewitnesses or clear evidence, cases can be harder to solve.

But what if you had an ally that's omnipresent, and never skipped a detail?

Oftentimes, conventional techniques provide limited results when used on complex cases.

It is then that technology lends a helping hand to crime and forensic investigators.

One such branch of novel technology is 3D, complementing, and in some cases even replacing traditional forms of investigation.

Forensic doctor analysing the scene

The 3 elements of 3D

Generally, there are 3 major ways 3D printing is used in investigation, forensics and evidence gathering. These include:

  1. 3D Scanning
  2. 3D Modelling
  3. 3D Printing

3D scans, 3D modeling and 3D printing can reconstruct accidents so that they can be better observed, and can help fill in the gaps between missing evidence. Facial reconstruction and understanding the impact of a weapon’s force on the victim’s body is made easier, so that justice prevails by accurate revelations.

Accident Scene Reconstruction using 3D modeling

But before we go into some exciting examples of 3D in crime fighting, let us explore each of these processes.

3D Scanning

3D scanning is the process of analyzing and recreating a real-world object, situation or environment. It can be used both to collect data on the shape and appearance and to construct a virtual representation. The collected data is also often used to construct digital 3D models.

Because of its precision, 3D scanning technology can reveal minute, high quality details that could be missed with the naked eye or traditional forensic techniques.

3D Modelling

3D modelling is the craft of using specialized computer software to create three-dimensional representations of an object or a surface. It involves the manipulation of edges, vertices, and polygons in a simulated 3D space. You can determine an object’s size, shape, and even texture.

3D modeling using computer aided software (CAD) can generate detailed models of otherwise unavailable or unclear evidence.

3D printing

3D printing is the creation of three-dimensional solid objects using a digital 3D model file. In simple terms, it involves the deposition of appropriate material over powdered grains, plastics, or even liquids, to fuse them into a homogenous layer.

These layers are then made to solidify in a controlled environment, to create models that mimic real-life figures. 3D printing brings evidence found digitally to real life, and allows for an accurate presentation in court, leading to a correct judgement as to whether someone is guilty or innocent.

The Crime Fighting Companion

So what are the various areas in crime investigation that have witnessed improved performance with 3D technology? Here are some uses of 3D technology.

  1. Ballistic reconstructions
  2. Forensic medicine
  3. Forensic anthropology

Ballistic reconstructions

Digital imaging techniques can precisely reconstruct bullet trajectories- a crucial element in analysing a sequence of events.

Forensic medicine

Forensic medicine depends heavily on 3D printing. 3D printing can help create precise, highly detailed models of anatomy, to aid medical students and train medical staff.

Forensic anthropology

In combination with volumetric imaging, 3D printing can construct physical replicas of internal bony structures with microscopic precision.

Use of 3D model in Forensic Department

Success Stories

And that brings us to the most (morbidly) exciting segment of this blog. Here we explore some cases that would have stayed unsolved without the use of 3D.

Let’s talk about some instances when 3D technology came to the rescue.

Microscopic mistake

Such was the case of Abigail Palmer when she was found guilty of murdering her child in 2019. Her crime was substantiated only after 3D scan images were able to reveal microscopic injuries to the skeleton of the victim, which were otherwise completely concealed in regular CT scans. Thanks to the technology, Abigail Palmer was rightfully convicted of manslaughter.

Reconstructing the Rampage

In 2015, Lorenzo Simon was proven to be guilty of murdering his tenant after 3D scanning revealed strong enough evidence - pieces of the victim’s bones from a suitcase, and an oil drum behind Lorenzo’s house fit perfectly, which investigators were able to figure out by displaying the 3D images onto a virtual reality wall. The technique also confirmed lacerations caused by the murder weapon, and they were able to present this evidence in court by 3D printing the bones.

Cracking the code

Another case was that of Ellie Butler’s murder in 2013. It was only after two of her skull’s replicas were 3D printed, were the circumstances of the murder revealed. The 3D technology disclosed the wound’s shape, showing that the crime was committed using a claw hammer - proving it to be the murder weapon and sending the murderer Ben Butler to prison, which otherwise would not have been possible despite Butler’s violent history.

Debunking conspiracy theories

So is 3D only used to solve crimes? Or can it be also used to clear misconceptions and hysteria.

Perhaps one of the most controversial and debated cases in history belongs to the assassination of John F. Kennedy’s in 1963. An event that rocked the world, it has since been shrouded in conspiracy theories. The biggest one is that the infamous Lee Harvey Oswald is not his killer - despite evidence stating that he is. The masses believe that a picture of Oswald holding the murder weapon, 6.5 mm Carcano rifle, has been photoshopped to frame him, as his posture and shadows look fake.

Hany Farid, professor at University of California, specializing in digital forensics, in his 2015 research, reconstructed the entire scene in the picture with 3D modeling. Using the exact position of the light source, precise measurements of Oswald’s and the gun’s height and weight, he and his team disproved the conspiracy theory by showing that the shadows and his posture were indeed completely fine, and that the picture was never altered.

End Note

3D technology has come about as one of the most important tools of investigation against carefully planned crimes, and for an accurate judgement against offenders. Eyes of the 3D technology miss nothing, and have proven to validate evidence in courts, gaining confidence of those who seek justice.

3D modeling, scanning and printing has assisted not only corporate strategies, but government, legal, investigative and law enforcement workings as well. In the near future, rather than just being an option or a last resort, 3D tech might become a necessity to ensure accuracy and precision in criminal investigations and judgements.

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