Saturday, February 16, 2013

10 Protocols for Proceeding with Testing of Physical Evidence by Tyler Huggins

1.       Find the best preservative measures available for your particular evidence. Since sizes and types of evidence will require different manners of storage, you’ll need to do your homework. Generally speaking, a freezer, and some sort of preservative buffer or alcohol will be your best bet.  (It’s not just an urban myth – Everclear really is a good choice for this.)

2.       If you have gained your evidence second-hand (someone has provided it to you):
a.   Record the encounter/statement with a recorder, not just pen and paper.
b.  Arrange a polygraph for the witness . No sense proceeding if you may be being lied to. If your witness is telling the truth, they won’t object.
3.       If there is a story of an encounter to go with the evidence, arrange for a sketch artist AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, to make sure that details of the event and the subjects are captured when they are most clear.

4.       Heavily research the potential labs you plan to use - be very clear on the particular set of expertise that the intended lab has. For example, just because a lab does “genetic testing”, that does not necessarily mean they will have the forensic expertise that you may need for dealing with contamination, degradation, novel DNA, etc.  (They may only perform paternity tests). For the lab’s conclusions to hold water, you will need people with the right credentials.

5.       *Make sure you retain the rights to your evidence. The labs are your hired technicians, not the owners of your evidence. If they want you to sign over the rights, find another lab. Even if a respected researcher assures you that such capitulation is necessary, get a second, informed opinion before committing. You don’t have to make your decision in the moment (feel free to contact me).

6.       Right at the outset of the relationship, come to agreement with the lab regarding what sort of manner and interval will be acceptable for update communication about your sample. You are likely to be in for a rather drawn out effort, and communication degrades overtime – this can lead to much frustration if everyone is not on the same page. This can result in loss of motivation, which tends to compromise results and/or timelines (It’s human nature to look for the expedient way out of something that has become onerous).

7.       Listen to the advice of your lab, but ensure you retain the right to approve each expenditure/test they perform. You may know things that would render some efforts completely unnecessary. You may be able to save effort for the lab, cash for yourself, and time for the undertaking.

8.       Look at the most efficient path to accurate, conclusive answers for your evidence.
a.  For instance, if the evidence garners a “human” test result, immediately test potential contamination sources. Check your chain of custody to see what humans could have handled it, and test their DNA against the DNA found in the sample. Don’t spend time and money on further testing until contamination sources have been vetted.
9.       Don’t be afraid to challenge the lab if some things don’t add up, but in the end, be prepared to accept answers that you don’t want to hear when the evidence is incontrovertible.

10.   Be aware of this fact: Real in-depth testing of a novel sample (whole genome sequencing for instance) will at some point take a dedicated team of highly credentialed scientists.  You are unlikely to be able to come to the sort of conclusions we all hope for, with just a contracted lab. However, they are likely to be a necessary first step, as their results can provide a sound basis for high-level teams getting involved.

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