Forensic Medicine and Imaging

The focus is on performing forensic examinations on living and dead persons on behalf of the prosecuting authorities. The aim is to provide clarification in respect of possible criminal offenses against life and limb and also offenses of a sexual nature. This includes examining bodies onsite (legal inspection), tomography investigations, 3D surface documentation and autopsies, as well as examinations of living persons, including securing of evidence from both, victims and suspects (physical injuries, child abuse, sexual offenses, attempted murders, etc.).

The Institute of Forensic Medicine at Bern also drafts reports on forensics issues or medical errors, some of which will constitute a decisive expert opinion. Reconstruction-type assessments are produced on the basis of 3D documentation, particularly in relation to crimes or traffic accidents. Dynamic reconstructions of incidents with firearms (ballistics) as well as sharp and blunt force (forensic physics) belong to the spectrum of the department as well as the investigation of the danger of thrown, shot and struck objects, "non-lethal" weapons and other devices.

Specifically, the forensic medicine service offered includes investigations following a death by means of an external inspection of the body where it was found or the crime was committed (legal inspection) and/or an internal inspection of the body (autopsy and imaging). Histopathology investigations are then performed afterwards as required.

The idea is to explain any unusual deaths (suicides, accidents, deaths in custody, homicides, traffic accidents including those involving aircraft, medical errors). The Institute of Forensic Medicine also helps with the identification process following events involving just one person or those where many people are involved.

Investigations of deaths can be enhanced by documenting findings relating to the body or other objects with the help of modern imaging processes (3D optical surface scanning, CT, postmortem vascular imaging (angiography) and even MRI). These can be used, for example, to document formal aspects of injuries (bites, marks left by weapons, footprints, tire tracks, etc.) and provide 3D X-ray visualizations of complex crime scenarios or accident reconstructions based on "3D real data".

Modern imaging processes can also be used during clinical examinations, including MRI examinations of the neck for victims of suspected strangulation and 3D optical surface scanning in order to document the formal aspects of injuries with a view to reconstructing a crime and identifying the weapon.

Forensic 3D reconstructions are very helpful in terms of clarifying:

  •     Homicides
  •     Gunshot wounds
  •     Traffic accidents
  •     Workplace accidents

Examination of living persons, including the securing of evidence (victims and possible perpetrators) with a view to clarifying:

  •     physical injuries
  •     child abuse
  •     sex offenses

-> Early examination is recommended for the purpose of documenting injuries and securing evidence. Points of contact for victims (a forensic pathologist is called in even before a police report is filed):

  •     Physical injuries to adults: City emergency service, tel.: +41 (0)31 326 20 00
  •     Child abuse/sex offenses where victims are children: Children's Department at Bern University Hospital, tel.: +41 (0)31 632 92 77
  •     Sex offenses where victims are women: Women's Department at Bern University Hospital, tel.: +41 (0)31 632 10 10 or police contact point, +41 (0)31 332 77 77 (voice mail service, police official will call back immediately)

Forensic physics is concerned with investigating the effects of blunt force on humans or forces produced by sharp instruments. Various procedures are used to investigate the phenomena encountered during practical forensics work:

  • The danger level when persons are beaten with objects or have them thrown at them can be investigated by measuring the energy involved during beating or throwing.
  • The level of danger (in mechanical terms) associated with jets of liquid such as pepper spray can be determined via pressure measurements and high-speed photography.
  • A drop tower makes it possible to reconstruct puncture and impact scenarios.
  • In collaboration with the mechanical workshop, a wide range of scenarios can be recreated in order to reconstruct a particular case.
  • The level of danger associated with blast incidents can be determined via blast pressure measurements.

Forensic ballistics can be divided into two main areas known as general ballistics (internal, external and terminal ballistics) and wound ballistics.
General ballistics is concerned with investigating the various phases when a shot is fired, from ignition to when the bullet hits something. Examples of such investigations are trajectory reconstructions for shots fired from distance and measurements of ricochet or penetration behavior for various bullet types. The Center for Forensic Physics/Ballistics uses the results of investigations to reconstruct the actions associated with particular firearms scenarios.
Wound ballistics is concerned with investigating the mechanisms involved in biological tissue injuries, and the Center for Forensic Physics/Ballistics uses this approach when assessing unusual gunshot injuries with the help of ballistic simulants. Investigations are also performed to assess the level of danger associated with various equipment used by the police authorities.
The Center for Forensic Physics/Ballistics has specific devices for this purpose such as Doppler radar, velocity measurement equipment and high-speed cameras capable of measuring the velocity of a bullet in specific situations (direct hit, penetration, ricochet, etc.), as well as equipment for creating various simulants.
There may be some overlap between the two areas in certain cases with a view to investigating and reconstructing complex firearms scenarios. The Center for Forensic Physics/Ballistics works very closely with the Department for Forensic Medicine and Imaging in this regard and thereby serves as an interface between forensics, medicine and the relevant authorities. This allows us to generate 3D models in order to visualize the crime scene or the sequence of events involved and compare trajectories with the topography of the location.
The Center for Forensic Physics/Ballistics operates across Switzerland and abroad and takes orders for assessments in English, French, Italian and German. It does this in collaboration with specialists from other institutes and services. We also offer training for forensic specialists, forensic scientists and medical personnel in either terminal or wound ballistics, including the annual Swiss International Wound Ballistics Workshop.

Using 3D pictures produced by forensic imaging techniques, the Center for Forensic Physics/Ballistics complements blood trace analyses by performing ballistic calculations designed to recreate the trajectories for drops of blood. These can also be combined with 3D reconstructions of firearms scenarios.

Medical errors, reports

Decisive expert opinions

Forensic Entomology is a national center for forensic investigations involving insects, which includes estimating the time since a person has died.