Below are writers’ questions about private forensic labs, and our answers.
Writer’s Question: Where can someone find a private forensic lab?
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 these labs 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 much do these labs charge civilians?
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 someone wanted to poison a relative? Can they go to a lab and be upfront about their concerns?
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 (putting chemicals into the mother’s nightly glass of wine). The chemist at the lab told us the mother was right — they found toxic chemicals in the sample the mother 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 does it take to get results?
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes: All that’s necessary is chain of custody material: That the sample was captured and handled carefully by the PI, and that it was then 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 requested to be tested, and how we are paying for their service (like any other business, they want the money upfront).
Regarding how the lab sends results, we typically have received results by fax and email. We have also called the lab to inquire on the status of tests, and have found lab personnel to be very accommodating — they will take the time to answer our questions, explain their turnaround time for results, and so forth. 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 or other conditions that affect if 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).