Hesitation, or tentative, wounds are defined either as: any cut or wound that is self-inflicted after a decision is made not to commit suicide, or any tentative cut or wound that is made before the final cut that causes death. Such wounds are usually superficial, sharp, forced skin cuts found on the body of victims. These less severe cutting marks are often caused by attempts to build up courage before attempting the final, fatal wound. Non-fatal, shallow hesitation wounds can also accompany the deeper, sometimes fatal incisions. Although hesitation cuts are not always present in cases of suicide, they are typical of suicidal injuries. However, the presence of hesitation marks alongside or near to the final fatal mark usually indicates a forensic diagnosis of suicide over other possible causes of death.
Hesitation wounds are generally straight-line marks at the elbows, neck/throat, and wrists, although in a few cases they occur in the general area of the upper middle part of the abdomen (near the heart). Wounds made by people attempting suicide are typically made at an angle related to the hand that holds the weapon. The angle of such hesitation wounds is usually in a downward flowing direction because of the natural motion of the arm as it sweeps across the body. Hesitation wounds are often made under clothing, with particular parts of the clothing being parted to expose the target area of the body, a common feature seen by forensic experts examining suicidal wounds. Instruments used to inflict hesitation wounds are generally those found around the living quarters of the person attempting suicide. Such instruments include kitchen knives, single-edge and double-edge knifes, pocket knives, hatchets, razor blades, screwdrivers, and other sharp objects. People who have previously attempted suicide, but have not succeeded in their endeavor, will often carry visible scars from hesitation wounds.
Although usually used in association with attempted suicides, hesitation wounds are sometimes made in order to provide an alibi (a claim to have been elsewhere when a crime was committed) or to be seen as a victim (when in actuality the person was an active participant in the crime).
see also Knife wounds; Suicide investigation.