The assessment of wounds is an important part of both an autopsy and the medical examination of a living victim. The medical examiner will make a careful note of each wound and its location on the body. Wounds, or injuries, are generally classified as being due to either blunt force or sharp force trauma. Blunt force would be applied by weapons which do not have a cutting edge, such as baseball bats, clubs, or fists, while sharp force trauma comes, as the name suggests, from weapons such as knives.
An abrasion or scrape is the mildest kind of wound caused by blunt force trauma. It involves only the epidermis, or outer layer of the skin, and bleeds little, if at all. A contusion or bruise involves leakage of blood from tiny vessels in the deeper layers of the skin. A laceration is a form of blunt force trauma in which the skin is actually broken.
When it comes to sharp force trauma, the examiner distinguishes between incised wounds and stab wounds. The former are wider than they are deep. Stab wounds are deeper than they are wide and often lead to significant blood loss.
It is not just the nature of the wounds on a victim but their pattern that may be significant. Contusions and lacerations widely scattered over the arms, legs, and torso may be indicative of torture or struggle. If the victim tries to defend himself, there may be wounds on their arms and hands. Hesitation wounds are common in cases of suicide. These are small nicks and cuts inflicted, typically on the wrists, as someone tries to get up the courage to make a fatal cut.
Should a potential murder weapon like a knife or gun be available, the examiner will try to determine whether it was capable of making the wounds being assessed. In the case of a fractured skull caused by a blunt instrument, x rays of the injury can be very useful to see if the injury maps onto the dimensions of the weapon.
see also Body marks.