Identifying the body

In a recent episode of CSI, they had the traditional scene of a mother being called into the morgue to make the official identification of her daughter’s body. In a television show, they play these scenes up for huge dramatic impact. But the show also mentioned that they had already used the fingerprints from the dead girl to get her name. So if you’ve already ID’ed a body by fingerprints, what is the point of calling in a close relative to say “Yup, that’s her”? Is this one of the cliches like a chalkline that only exists in TV and movie land? Incidentally, I know of a case in which a body was mistakenly identified.

In real life, the fingerprints of most individuals are not on file.

If anything, you should be questioning the overworked lab tech who manages to deliver DNA results in 30 minutes or less.

It’s an interesting show, but for the sake of a machine-gun pace, they really pile on the bullshit.

It’s plain that they “accelerate” the pace of the typical investigation. From what I’ve heard, real crime scene investigators would spend weeks and months gathering and analyzing evidence the CSI crew rips through in an hour. Of course in real life, you wouldn’t see the men and women of Law and Order work through a complete case from crime to conviction in an hour either. And for all we know, there are mafiosos saying “they never show those Sopranos sitting around the office going through the paperwork we have to do.”

That raises an interesting question. What percentage of American have their fingerprints on file? I know the FBI has “millions” but that’s a nebulous figure.

But to get back to my OP, I’m still left wondering if visually identifying the body is a standard procedure and, if so, why is it a requirement when the body has already been identified by other means?

Something I’ve been wondering myself is why my father had to identify his fathers body (my grandpa’s) after he had been in a bad car wreck. Hell, they had his wallet and car paperwork there. Thats something that happened 32 years ago and still gives my dad nightmares… the bastards.

Little Nemo - in the show, did they specifically say the mother was asked in to identify the body? Maybe the mother wanted to see her daughter one last time.
If I were an investigator, I would think it’s a good idea to have a relative look at the body. What if there was a mistake in the records?
Or to go into detective fiction territory, what if the husband said “Well maybe her fingerprints identify her as Jane Doe, but that’s not the woman I married 10 years ago under the name Jane Doe!” (the detectives gasp, and all the puzzling details become as clear as a limpid lake on a sunny afternoon)

Actually now that I think about it, it was Without a Trace not CSI. Oh well, they’re pretty much the same show.

Anyway, while it wasn’t explicitly stated (I think they were playing a song and there was no dialogue during the scene), it seemed pretty obvious this was a police procedure not a sentimental thing. I have to figure anyone wanting a last look at their child would prefer to do it in a funeral setting rather than the coroner’s office.

I wonder what happens if the person denies it’s who they think it is. “Nope, that’s not Mom.” “Are you sure? We already ran her prints and know it’s her. Go on and take another look. Try to imagine the head’s still attached.”

Because being in posession of a wallet and car registration papers isn’t proof of a person’s identity - after all, those items can be stolen or forged. If a thief stole my car (with the registration papers in the glove compartment, and my wallet accidentally left behind on the passenger’s seat), he wouldn’t magically morph into me just because he now possessed my identifying documents - and I really wouldn’t appreciate the police notifying my next-of-kin of my “death” when said thief (driving my stolen vehicle recklessly) is subsequently killed in a crash.

No shit. However,

  1. Drivers licence has a photo.

  2. Passport he always carried (something he always carried as he was an immigrant) had his photo.

Regardless of the above, it was a Small town. The cops knew who he was. Kin identification was needed “for some reason” that I still don’t know. Maybe there is a law that I am unaware of.