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.357 mag vs .38 sp: can police forensics tell the difference?

Discussion in 'Handguns: General Discussion' started by jpruitt, Nov 27, 2019.

  1. jpruitt

    jpruitt Member

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    Since the bullets themselves are the same size, can police forensics people tell if someone was shot with a .357 or a .38? Assuming no shell cases are left at the scene.

    (This question prompted by the end of My Cousin Vinny, where the sheriff testifies that the store clerk was shot with a .357 magnum).
     
  2. Alec

    Alec Member

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    Speculation: the amount of powder reside, penetration depth, bullet weight and deformation could be clues to a forensic scientist.
     
  3. Dibbs

    Dibbs Member

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    First, the shooting happened in a convenience store, very close range, and a lot of forensic evidence.

    Second, the scene was from a movie, and Hollywood isn't known for firearms or ballistic accuracy. But in this particular case, they caught the bad guys, and at that point had the revolver with which to make a ballistic match.
     
  4. LaneP

    LaneP Member

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    I doubt they could conclude with certainty if one or the other was used, as this gets clouded due to the wide range of loads available in both calibers as well as the barrel lengths involved. The .357 is generally loaded with slow burning powders that are greatly affected by barrel length, to the extent a stout +P .38 Special load from a 6" bbl might inflict damage not too far removed from a comparable bullet type from a .357 snubby.

    But as @Dibbs posted, Hollywood portrayals of guns are notoriously inaccurate and mostly scripted for pure entertainment value with no concept of reality whatsoever.
     
  5. Slamfire

    Slamfire Member

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    On one CSI show they poured some metal into the wound and came out with a cast of the blade used to murder the victim. Probably had the brand name on the cast.

    I understand, this is all bunkum. However, people watch what is entertainment and believe it is real. I seem to remember some Newspaper Columnist lambasting the Cops for not shooting the pistols out of criminal's hands, as the Lone Ranger does.
     
  6. JFrame

    JFrame Member

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    I think on that CSI show, Grissom could pluck the bullet out of the wound, taste it, and tell you what powder was used to propel it. ;)

    .
     
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  7. JR24

    JR24 Member

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    I liked the one where they got a deaf woman to ID a shotgun by the vibration on the hardwood floor.

    Then, despite the weapon being a ... Mossberg I think ... Were able to track it to a SINGLE gun store despite it being a popular shotgun in either upstate NY or PA.
     
  8. jmr40

    jmr40 Member

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    I doubt it. There is a lot of variations between loads and the hotter 38 loads, especially from longish barrels will overlap and have more speed than some milder 357 loads from shorter barrels. Remember, before 357 mag was introduced they were loading hot 38 special loads that basically duplicated common 357 loads. But those loads were intended to only be used in large frame revolvers. When people started loading them in small frame 38.s, and blowing them up, the 357 mag was introduced in a slightly longer case that would only load in 357 chambers.

    Years ago before switching to semi's our city PD were issued Smith 65 revolvers chambered in 357 mag. But at the time 357 mag was politically incorrect and considered too powerful so our officers were only allowed to carry 38 ammo. The reason they bought 357 revolvers was because they specified that the ammo purchased was 38+p+ which basically duplicated 357 mag performance. But since it was not 357 it made the politicians happy.
     
  9. JohnKSa

    JohnKSa Moderator Staff Member

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    Assuming the bullet was in good condition, you might get some clues from the design of the bullet and the bullet weight--or you might not. For example, 130gr is a fairly common .38SPL bullet weight but that weight bullet isn't common in the .357Mag. Similarly, there is some 142gr .357Mag ammo on the market, but I don't know of any loadings with that bullet weight in .38SPL. And although there are some loadings for the .357Mag that exceed 158gr bullet weights, bullets that heavy are pretty uncommon in the .38SPL. Of course, 125gr and 158gr are very common bullet weights for both calibers so there's certainly no guarantee that bullet weight would always be a good discriminator.

    I can't think of any method that would work all the time, but there are some things that might give you some hints one way or the other.
     
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  10. Anchorite

    Anchorite Member

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    Wound science. I once had a case where the prosecution and forensic investigators insisted that the victim had been shot with a 454 Casull.......wait for it ....... because of the blood splatter pattern. No weapon ever recovered, and the bullet was very deformed and barely measured .452. When I hired my own investigator and we argued it could have been a 45 Colt or even a 45 ACP, the State couldn’t tell me how they were certain that it was a 454 and how splatter could tell the difference. I suspect one of their people had just read about the 454 in a magazine and voila!
     
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  11. Eddietruett

    Eddietruett Member

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    I would say absolutely not to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt. Too many variables. What is the crook used a .357 loaded with .38 Special? I just think it would be impossible just as @Anchorite said above. You couldn't tell a 454 from a 45 Colt.
     
  12. 748

    748 Member

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    If a "pristine bullet" or bullets get recovered then it's probably a 38spl.

    If it's a 125gr or 110gr since I have seen both of those loaded in 38spl and 357 I would expect the 357 to be fragments and a 38spl to be some what intact.
     
  13. rdnktrkr

    rdnktrkr Member

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    I don't think so, I load 38sp and 357mag with the same powder and bullets, I even load some 357mag cases to same specs as 38sp for my SILs Colts.
     
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  14. buck460XVR

    buck460XVR Member

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    I'm going with "nope". They might have suspicions based on wound and bullet expansion, but otherwise I'd bet it would take other forensic evidence to make it definite. As for the difference between a .454 and .45ACP, since most ammo(factory and handloads) use different bullets profiles(cannelure mainly) for each, while determining whether or not it was .45 Colt or .454 would be virtually impossible with only the spent projectile, .45 ACP would probably be a far fetch(tho, not impossible). Maybe there are some rifling profiles that are unique to specific platforms and thus the platform itself could tell us caliber?
     
  15. Speedo66

    Speedo66 Member

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    Unless some manufacturer is using a specific rifling pattern for their .357 vs. their .38Spl., I would say no.
     
  16. Hooda Thunkit

    Hooda Thunkit Member

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    I'm also going with 'no'. At least, not in a way that will stand up to a decently informed defense attorney.
     
  17. C-grunt

    C-grunt Member

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    Having just left a suicide done with a magnum handgun..... there definitely it's a difference in contact head shots between 38/9mm/40/45 and the magnums. The extra blast can greatly increase the wound size.

    In those types of situations you can tell the difference. Other than that I'd say probably not.
     
  18. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    SOME brands of bullet are cannelured differently Special to Magnum. If the bullet were not too deformed, it would show.
     
  19. mjsdwash

    mjsdwash Member

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    its pretty easy to tell a 148 full wadcutter that stayed in, vs a 158gr JSP that went 4" into a tree behind the store. Not much else, but you can get a rough idea of how fast a bullet was going by what its made of, and how much it deformed.
     
  20. tipoc

    tipoc Member

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    No in general they cannot tell if the bullet was fired from a 9mm, 38 Spl., 357 Magnum, 38 Super, etc. Especially if they have no recovered bullet, case, or gun.

    However, if they recover a bullet the rifling may tell them if it was a revolver or semi, the rate of twist is different.

    If it is a particularly powerful load then the damage may lead them to speculate that it's from a Magnum, 357 Sig, 38 Super etc. vs. a 38 Spl. But without a case or a gun it's a guess.
     
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  21. 94045

    94045 Member

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    Might be interesting to try a Hot .38 Spl +P+ and a mid-range .357 Mag on gelatin at contact distance and see what the difference was. I suspect its more a case of most likely as opposed to definitive.

    Of course I'm sure you don't see a lot of suicides with Buffalo Bore or Double Tap.
     
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  22. roval

    roval Member

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    it's funny, i asked the same question in January 2019 also prompted by the same movie. also the 357 mag statement in the movie was before they eventually caught the perps and then found to have a 357 mag revolver in their possesion.

    i think the answer was no.
     
  23. C-grunt

    C-grunt Member

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    The magnums creating much larger wounds was something I noticed early in my career. Being a gun nut Ive always been especially interested in the terminal ballistics of the shootings Ive investigated. My theory is the massive increase in chamber pressure and muzzle blast is the culprit. That's why I see a big difference in contact shots but not in non contact shots. The 38 Special runs something like 17k PSI while the 357 is around 35k PSI. I think you'd have to load basically a 357 load into a 38 case to see comparable results.

    Not to get graphic but when I first observed the victim last week my initial thought was a shotgun or rifle. Seeing the handgun actually surprised me a little.
     
  24. SwampWolf

    SwampWolf Member

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    Highly unlikely with any degree of certainty. Same size and weight of the bullet with the only difference being velocity (assuming everything else being equal in terms of the barrel length of the gun, the distance the gun was fired from, etc.) would make it extremely difficult to say definitively that the wound was caused by a .38 Special (especially a +P round) bullet vs a .357 Magnum bullet, absent any other information.
     
  25. total recoil

    total recoil Member

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    Did anyone ask GunnyUSMC about this question?
     
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