Ladyjustice had the pleasure of attending a class on Evidence Collection and Packaging while touring the Henry C. Lee Forensics Institute at the University of New Haven recently. The class was taught by a former Connecticut State Trooper who is also a Forensic Scientist and Instructor.
This writer introduced herself to the instructor and to a dozen or so police officers; gave a blanket invitation to appear on “Shattered Lives” and thereafter tried to observe inconspicuously in the back of the room. (Such behavior is unlike LJ, as in her days of academia, she typically sat up front.)
Part of the class consisted of lecture, while the second half was conducted in another section of the building known as the “evidence storage area.” This room was adjacent to several mock crime scene rooms (such as a typical college dorm room, living room including the usual props and general mess encountered in real life.)
A side note, when LJ attempted to locate more information on the web regarding “Mr. Jones –Instructor.” This website was commonly used to rate instructor by former students and was called: http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=1118009;
Numerical Ratings are: Overall Quality; Helpfulness, Clarity and “Hotness”
(Scale 1.—to 5.00)
Ladyjustice viewed this site with skepticism because… the comments ranged from “He’s an excellent instructor; He’s an awful instructor; He’s an easy test administrator.” However, these comments were discounted when the majority of female comments discussed solely “How hot he is.” What?? Yes, Mr. Jones is “easy on the eyes” as they say. But, such a forum should be reserved for more studious comments. Match.com would appreciate the hotness factor, though… How can an observer trust a student’s assessment when hormones get in the way??
Getting back to the heart of the matter… the following fascinating facts were related from the written “Scratch notes” of Ladyjustice.
The Mechanics of Collecting Evidence and Packaging
Let’s dispel the illusion formerly held by LJ that all police officers and departments have fully stocked evidence kits at the ready all the time. Not so… As Tim Palmbach stated on the radio broadcast, there were times in his career when he wasn’t able to get home for five days in a row, due to the number od successive (and excessive) crime scenes requiring processing. Therefore, it follows that one would run out of supplies. In addition not every city or municipality has the same amount of resources at their disposal. As “Mr. Jones” put it to the officers, “If you don’t have the benefit of the ‘big ice cream truck unit,’ you essentially have to create your own stockpile in your patrol car for spur of the moment evident collection. As one option, “Mr. Jones” suggested purchasing a fishing tackle box. Standard equipment includes:
ü Paper envelopes; pill boxes; sterile swabs; pipettes(to remove sample liquids for placement in a jar); plastic and paper bags; metal paint cans;
ü Gun shot residue kits; gloves, butcher paper; scalpel, sharps container;
ü Evidence tape
Huge “Rule of Thumb” with Evidence Collection- Paper or Plastic?
***Unlike your choice at the grocery store, almost without exception, paper should be used for evidence collection!
Porous materials such as a sponge, paper and wood absorb liquid whereas items such as plastic and rubber do not absorb. Plastic absorbs moisture, increasing bacteria which traps DNA. The only exceptions to this rule are use of plastic bags for money or drugs. Itwas recommended that cell phones be removed from the network with power shut off and then placed in a metal paint cans in order to maintain forensic evidence.
Another Example: During arson investigations, solvents should never be placed in plastic bags, as vapor from the chemicals in the plastic leak, causing an accidental contaminated result.
When taking DNA, It was recommended that two swabs be taken for every surface. “Mr. Jones” stated that if a suspect is developed, the defense has the right to also examinee the evidence. To avoid delay in the court proceedings and to decrease the occurrence of “lack of sufficient evidence to test” (if you consume the only testable swab.) Word to the wise… take enough swabs for testing and even more to be considered “left over samples.” The sharing of evidence needs to be coordinated with the State’s Attorney and shared with the perpetrator’s attorney.
When handling evidence, use of butcher paper minimizes or eliminates the chances of cross-contamination.
Cross Contamination: http://www.enotes.com/cross-contamination-reference/ Trace evidence like hair, fibers, paint, and blood, is by its very nature readily transferred from item to another. This raises the problem of cross contamination, where the source of trace evidence found on a significant item is uncertain. The trace evidence may have attached itself to a relevant item during the crime itself, in which case it becomes significant evidence. However, it is also possible that the evidence was transferred to the item via a third party during the investigation. This would be cross contamination, and such evidence is detrimental to an investigation.
Evidence Tape– Comes in all sizes, colors (i.e. red, wide yellow) and is very sticky and difficult to handle. There is an “art” to handling it correctly.
How Can I Use It?
ü Butcher paper – To safely wrap jeans, or other clothing;
ü Pill boxes- Used for small items such as bullets, glass fragments;
ü Sharps Containers – (Non-Medical) Used to package small knifes individually.
The Importance of Proper Precautions and Evidence Collection:
True Story as told by Instructor: “The Dispatcher told us it was a Car Theft…” They ain’t always what they seem…
The police were called to the scene; The boyfriend of a pregnant girl had stolen a car. When they arrived, they discovered an unbelievable sight. The car thief was a heroin addict who had strewn 400 used, uncapped syringes around the home! In case readers are not aware, (as Ladyjustice was not…) when a heroin addict shoots up, they complete the process by emptying the syringe in a very “unsavory manner.” According to “Mr. Jones,” blood squirts out from each syringe. In this case, as with all heroine addicts, they care about nothing but their next fix.
When the police arrived, the walls and other surfaces were covered with blood from emptying the 400 syringes. This, in fact, could likely be interpreted as “blood cast off stains” during the commission of a violent crime such as murder. Oh yes… there were many syringes stuck in the Lazy Boy recliner…which the addict used as a “pin cushion.” Consequently, the police spent hours and hours processing the scene so that the actual cause could be determined –drug addiction versus violent death etc.
In reality, the scene was a hazardous materials situation and very dangerous for the pregnant girl. The homeowner was told that they would be responsible for the massive cleanup such as the work done by:
In the Evidence Room At the Henry C. Lee Institute
*** Avoidance of cross-contamination is critical to ensure that future testing is possible.
A specific and proper technique is always used in sealing bags with tape. The technique used is to ensure that it is tamper resistant. The original seal should always stay intact with the officer’s signature appearing ….
*** The original seal should never be tampered with… not even at the lab! When the lab processes evidence, they make a new opening and then seal it. (Gee… Ladyjustice has never seen this on CSI…)
Officers routinely have to testify in court verifying that it was in fact, their seal and signature and no one else’s.
Factors in Evidence Collection:
“Instructor Jones” recommended that;
ü One officer solely be responsible for seizing evidence at the scene for consistency and methodology. (Attorneys will attach chain of custody (i.e. The movement and location of physical evidence from the time it is obtained until the time it is presented in court.)
ü When processing fragile or transient evidence, be sure to collect those items first at a scene (Such as items that may not survive – wet or dry ; example –footprints in the snow);
ü Package all items appropriately to prevent cross-contamination;
ü Gather “control” and “alibi” samples. (Example of Alibi Sample – Dirt found on sole of boot consistent with soil from a nursery person claimed at which he was located.)
- Stop and Swab (psychologytoday.com)
- Shattered Lives/Crime Wire Live Radio Show with Dr. Henry Lee (donnagore.com)
- Unsung Heroes (donnagore.com)
- The Peace, The Quiet, It’s a Wonderful Place to Be,The Importance of Pampering (donnagore.com)
- Victims of violence find relief from pain, fears at hands of forensic nurses (gazette.com)
- ‘Poor evidence collection resulted in flawed report’ (stuff.co.nz)
- A push to change the acute evidence collection window in forensic sexual assault exams from 72 hours to 120 hours. (esvnow.org)