U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Consequences of Disregarding Contemporary Forensic Standards (From Policing in Central and Eastern Europe: Dilemmas of Contemporary Criminal Justice, P 380-390, 2004, Gorazd Mesko, et al., eds. -- See NCJ-207973)

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2004
11 pages

This paper discusses the consequences of disregarding contemporary forensic standards in criminal investigations, using a case study of a multiple-death investigation in the village of Racak in Kosovo and Metohia.


On January 16, 1999, a number of bodies were found and determined to be Albanians. All had been killed with a firearm. The investigation focused on whether they had been killed in a battle (as soldiers of the Liberating Army of Kosovo, an illegal army group) or in an execution/massacre by the Serbian military forces. This was the objective of the forensic analysis and interpretation of evidence at the scene. This paper critiques the forensic analysis conducted as well as its consequences. The Finnish expert team assigned by the United Nations to determine the cause and circumstances of the deaths did not include forensic experts in ballistics or the investigation of the existence and patterns of gunshot residue (GSR) that could determine whether or not the dead men had fired guns. Such experts would have been crucial in determining whether or not the dead men had recently fired guns, the direction or directions from which bullets had entered their bodies, and the approximate distance from which such bullets had been fired. These issues were crucial in determining the circumstances of the killings. GSR and ballistics investigations following the report of the Finnish team found that the dead men had fired weapons, that the bullets entering their bodies had come from various directions, and that they had been fired from a significant distance. This evidence suggested that they had been killed in a battle. Based on an inadequate investigation, however, the Finnish team called a news conference and announced the conclusion that the men had been executed. The team not only conducted a flawed investigation but took it upon themselves to render a judgment based on their mistaken conclusions. 7 figures and 15 references

Date Published: September 1, 2004