Answering Writers’ Questions About Private Forensic Labs
Posted by Writing PIs on November 6, 2011
Today we’re answering writers’ questions about private forensic labs.
Writer’s Question: Where can one find these forensic labs?
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: Personally, we network with other private investigators, lawyers, addiction treatment personnel, even coroners about good DEA-approved private forensic toxicology labs. We searched to see if there’s a list of these labs online and found the following:http://home.lightspeed.net/~abarbour/labs.htm
Writer’s Question: Are ALL of them available to civilians?
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:In the link above, the specification to be on the list requires that the lab routinely performs tests for private as well as public agencies.
Writer’s Question: How expensive is it?
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:In our personal experience (working with civilian client-cases that require chemical analytics), the cost has been about $250 per sample for drug testing. Urine testing is between $20-$150. Hair sample testing in the $120 range. If you’re needing more specific info for a story, contact a local lab and ask their prices (our experience has been that lab personnel are very accessible and can clearly explain testing methods).
Writer’s Question: What if a civilian suspected a poisoning was occurring and wanted to find out?
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:Funny you should ask. We actually had a private lab chemist chat with us about a case she recently had that came into her office…a mother suspected her daughter was poisoning her (chemicals into a substance…we forget exactly what this substance was, but we think the daughter was putting something into her mother’s nightly glass of wine). The chemist at the lab told us the mother was right — they had found toxic chemicals in the sample the mother had brought into the lab.
Writer’s Question: What is the process? What paperwork would the PI/civilian have to complete? Does the lab call/mail results? How long (if they aren’t very busy)?
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: All that’s necessary is chain of custody material: that the sample was seized and handled carefully by the PI, and that the same is sealed and sent in a bag to the lab. In our experience, the lab has faxed us a simple form where we document what we want tested, and how we’re paying (like any other business, they want the money upfront). Regarding how the lab sends results, we receive it by fax & email (we’ve also found we can call at any time to check on their research, and they’re very accommodating to take our calls, answer our questions, explain their turnaround time for results, etc). If they aren’t busy, we typically get results in 72 hours, sometimes a bit longer.
Writer’s Question: What evidence, if any, would the lab be required to report to law enforcement officials?
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:They don’t have a requirement to report to law enforcement.
Writer’s Question: Is there a time limit/conditions beyond which results would be unattainable or inconclusive?
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:Samples don’t lose markers for chemicals unless they are kept under poor conditions (moisture or heat such as light).