Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Posts Tagged ‘private forensic labs’

Answering Writers’ Questions About Private Forensic Labs

Posted by Writing PIs on April 14, 2014

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.

Photo courtesy of Mick Stephenson

Photo courtesy of Mick Stephenson

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).

Have a great week, Writing PIs
Click on cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click on cover to go to book’s Amazon page

Posted in Q&As, Writing About PIs, Writing Mysteries, Writing PIs | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off on Answering Writers’ Questions About Private Forensic Labs

Answering Writers’ Questions: Do DNA Samples Have to Be Perfect?

Posted by Writing PIs on November 12, 2010

FDA microbiologist prepares DNA sample (image is in pub domain)

Today we’re posting some writers’ questions, and our answers, about DNA samples.

Writer’s Question: Does a DNA sample taken at a crime scene have to be perfect?  Does it have to be intact and isolated?  What if a DNA sample is picked up by a sleuth long after the police have left the crime scene—the DNA is from the floor of an auto garage where there’s oil, gas, etc. as well as dried blood.

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’ Answer: PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technology makes it possible to isolate identifiable strands of DNA, even when the sample is mixed with other chemicals and organic substances.  For instance, scientists in Australia were able to recently extract and identify blood in a leech as containing the DNA of an identifiable human suspect who has since been convicted of robbing someone (and having left a leech at the crime scene).  In this example, PCR technology was able to differentiate between the human and animal chromosones.

Writer’s Question: Can one private forensics lab screw up DNA results, while another provides better, more realistic results?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’ Answe: Absolutely.  There are certain labs that have had their results reviewed by a second opinion (from an outside lab) and it has been shown that the original lab used improper techniques or slanted calculation statistics (as to the population).  How might a sleuth research if a private forensics lab is subject to criticism?  One way is for a sleuth (or a fictional sleuth in a story) to go to an organization that would have expert feedback on forensic science third-party experts (from qualified private forensic labs to fingerprint experts to polygraph examiners and more). Examples of such organizations are the state/national criminal defense organizations, the state/federal public defenders offices, state/national trial lawyers organizations.  As a writer, if you (or your sleuth in a story) were wanting a recommendation for a qualified forensic lab in a particular state, you/the fictional sleuth might google one of these organizations, then write a letter to their director (who, if he/she can’t help you, will most likely route it to a contact who can).

Last note:  Some of the organizations we mentioned maintain databases of such experts.  In more than a few instances, individual attorneys coming up against a lab in a court case have used their own investigators to research and determine the pros/cons of a particular lab.  This data is then added to the database.   Faults these investigators might learn about labs are how they inadequately store evidence samples, how scientists might be overworked and prone to making mistakes, or if a lab has financial problems (which causes them to cut corners, which in turn would most likely affect the integrity of their results).

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Posted in Q&As, Writing About PIs | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off on Answering Writers’ Questions: Do DNA Samples Have to Be Perfect?

 
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