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Implications of Three-Dimensional Laser Scanned Images for the Criminal Justice System

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2020
71 pages

This is the Final Summary Report of the findings and methodology of a research project whose overarching goal was to provide quantitative data on both laypersons’ and forensic professionals’ interpretation and assessment of traditional scene documentation methods compared to 3D laser-scanned representations of mock crime scenes.


In addition, a cost-benefit analysis was conducted for four methods (3D laser scanner, photography, notes, and scene sketches). The research was divided into two phases. In Phase 1, four indoor and eight outdoor mock crime scenes were staged and documented using the four methods. The mock scenes included human skeletal remains (outdoor) or a mannequin (indoor) and associated physical evidence. Phase II involved the collection of survey data from a stratified random sample of laypersons and various law enforcement personnel regarding which of the four documentation methods most clearly depicted the mock crime scene and associated evidence. The study found that respondents overwhelmingly preferred 3D video documentation, with photographs being the second most preferred method; however, 2D diagrams and photographs had the highest average accuracies regarding scene interpretation.  Although 3D products had highest preferences, they are the costliest in terms of training, equipment, and resources. In addition, there were several caveats noted by respondents regarding their faith in the presentation of this data. The data suggest that without proper explanations of 3D scan technology, the policies and procedures in creating a 3D video, and an explanation of the verifiable accuracy of the data, a jury may not trust a 3D video. Given these findings, this study concludes that photographic evidence is superior in a cost-benefit analysis of the capture of a crime scene; however, if resources permit, 3D scanning is unparalleled in terms of precision in spatial locations and relationships. 8 tables, 3 references, and appended research instruments

Date Published: June 1, 2020