Forensic Laboratory FAQ

Forensic Laboratory FAQ’s


Q: Why do I need to give a detailed case history on cases?

A: For trace, serology, DNA and firearms cases we need to understand the relationship between the victim, the suspect, and the crime scene so that we can determine how best to look for and analyze the evidence. We can also determine if all the appropriate reference standards were submitted and if DNA samples are eligible for entry into CODIS.

Q: How do I package syringes if they must be submitted for testing?

A: Syringes must be packaged in a tube specifically designed to hold syringes or “sharps.” Please do not place tape over the needle or drop the syringe in a bag with the other items for submission. If you do not have access to syringe tubes, very carefully transport the syringe in a puncture-proof container to the laboratory and we will package it in a syringe tube for you. Please be careful with syringes. This policy is for both the safety of our analysts and YOU as you transport them.

Q: How do you prevent the spread of bedbugs from crimes scenes to your evidence locker and then to the lab, please follow this?

A: Keep evidence FROZEN!! While heat treatment and chemicals are recommended for the elimination of bedbugs, those treatments can damage your biological evidence or interfere with chemical testing. Using a common household freezer a two week freeze time is recommended to inactivate the bedbugs. If you have a lower temperature freezer available the freeze time will beIf you have a lower temperature freezer available the freeze time will be shorter. The same treatment can be used for lice or other crawling pests.

Q: What is the meaning of the phrase “don’t shoot the messenger”?

A: NEVER mail or hand deliver a loaded firearm. Please ensure all weapons are unloaded and packaged safely before trans-porting. Hand delivered items must be boxed or wrapped before being accepted by a laboratory analyst.

Q: How should evidence be packaged?

A: Each ITEM of evidence should be in its own clearly marked package, if possible. Each package should be marked with the case and item numbers and sealed with evidence tape including the initials of the person creating the seal. Hand delivered evidence must be properly sealed before being accepted by a laboratory analyst.

Q: How do I send evidence via mail?

A: Send packages via registered mail or a commercial carrier so the chain of custody can be tracked. Always indicate the section of the lab to which your evidence should be directed, e.g. Attention: TRACE SECTION, and PLEASE attach a copy of the KSP 26 in an envelope to the exterior of the package.

Q: What if evidence needs to go to AFIS and requires laboratory analysis?

A: Clearly indicate the analysis requested of both the laboratory (e.g., DNA and Firearms) and AFIS on the KSP 26. The order in which the analysis is done is crucial to prevent rendering the evidence unsuitable for other types of analysis. Indicating the types of analysis on the KSP 26 allows the AFIS and/or laboratory analysts to make an informed decisions on handling the evidence.

Q: Can the laboratory destroy evidence submitted, if the agency does not want it back?

A: No, the laboratory does not routinely destroy evidence. with the exception of toxicology kits. Please make a point to check with the evidence custodian any time you visit the laboratory so that evidence submitted by your agency may be returned. See also destruction of evidence in the October 2014 newsletter (Legal Notes page 5), which explains the significance of KRS 524.140 (2).

Q: How should evidence items be sealed when delivered to the laboratory?

A: Proper sealing involves placing the entire item into the container such that it can be completely sealed. The opening should be secured with evidence tape and the sealer’s initials placed across the tape.

Q: What if your evidence question is not addressed in this section?

A: Call the nearest lab! See lab list on the last page under contacts.


Q: What is the meaning of the phrase “don’t shoot the messenger”?

A: NEVER mail or hand deliver a loaded firearm. Please ensure all weapons are unloaded and packaged safely before trans-porting. Hand delivered items must be boxed or wrapped before being accepted by a laboratory analyst.


Q: Do I need to contact Forensic Biology/DNA Casework or DNA Database about the status of my case?

A: If you submit a case to the lab it will be worked by the Forensic Biology/DNA Casework section. Check BEAST for status and to obtain the responsible analyst’s name, if possible, before calling.

Q: Do reference standards need to be submitted for a case prior to DNA analysis, if an offender sample is present in the DNA Database?

A: Yes, if probable cause exists, a standard should be obtained. Offender samples are not evidentiary and are not intended for use in court.

Q: Can evidence be submitted for Serological analysis to the Forensic Biology Casework section without reference standards?

A: Yes, but submission of reference standards is required prior to the evidence being forwarded for DNA analysis.

Q: What is a buccal swab and how do I collect?

A: A buccal swab is a swab collected from the inside of an individual’s mouth to use as a DNA reference standard. To collect— open a sterile swab package (available in the KSP Buccal Standard Collection Kit) and rub the 2 swabs on the inside of the individual’s cheeks for about 30 seconds on each side, rolling the swabs to collect evenly. Allow the swabs to air dry before placing in a labeled, sealed swab carton or envelope. Seal the container with evidence tape.

Q: Can both Ignitable liquid analyses AND DNA be done on an item?

A: Yes. Package the clothing or object in a standard Arson Can and be sure to FREEZE the sample. This is the only exception to the standard DNA packaging requirements.


Q: Why does the drug chemistry section no longer perform quantitative analysis?

A: The only drugs with penalties that differ based on weight in Kentucky are cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and marijuana. KRS 218A.010 defines cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin and as “a substance that contains any quantity of (the listed drug)…”, and KRS 218A.010(21) defines marijuana as “…all parts of the Cannabis plant or “…any compound, mixture, or preparation which contains any quantity of these substances.”. These definitions in Kentucky law preclude the need for quantitative analysis. The cost and labor involved in a quantitation can be as much as a 10-fold increase over a standard identification. For this reason, along with the lack of judicial consequence, the laboratory decided to suspend quantitative analysis in 2014. If a drug case will be tried in federal court and requires quantitation, please speak with the associated federal law enforcement agency (DEA, FBI, ATF) to obtain a quantitative analysis.

Q: When a drug field test kit is used by an officer is it necessary to submit that kit to the drug chemistry section?

A: No, in fact, field test kits should not be submitted to the drug section of the laboratory. Several of the kits contain acid which, if spilled during transit, could destroy the drug evidence prior to analysis.

Q: When submitting a syringe to the drug chemistry section is a letter from the prosecutor necessary?

A: No, the drug chemistry section no long requires a letter for such submissions to be accepted.

Q: How do I package freshly cut plant material?

A: It is very important to package freshly cut plant material (particularly marijuana cultivation cases) in paper bags. The fresh plant material will mold and degrade if placed in a plastic bag as the moisture will not be able to escape as the plant dries.


Q: What does a kit’s expiration date mean?

A: The expiration date refers only to the vacuum on the blood tube. After the expiration date the vacuum may be insufficient to properly pull blood from the vein. It does NOT represent the integrity of the tube nor the quality of the preservatives.

Q: What to do with a kit that has expired?

A: If an unexpired kit is available, use it and discard the expired kit. If not, ask the hospital to replace the tubes with new tubes using the same color tops, if possible. Never remove the expired date sticker on a box as the tubes are marked with the same date.

Q: What does therapeutic range mean?

A: Therapeutic range is the minimum and maximum levels of a drug in the blood which is known to have the desired pharmacological affect. It does not represent the level at which a person is considered to be “safe” to drive and should be considered only as a guide to determine whether a drug is being taken as prescribed.

Q: Can someone be impaired with a drug level inside therapeutic range?

A: Yes; many, in fact most, drugs cause impairment at their therapeutic range. For example narcotics get their name from the Greek Narkos, which means “to numb”. Words like sedative and central nervous system depressants represent aspects of these drugs’ pharmacology. A “pain killer” usually works by decreasing the brain’s ability to work properly.

Q: What are additive and synergistic effects?

A: Additive affects indicate a drug plus another drug will combine to have the total impairing affects of both drugs. Synergistic affects indicate two drugs will interact in a way that is greater than the total impairing affects of both drugs.

Q: Because I get a “No drugs identified”, does that mean no drugs are present in the sample?

A: No. There are thousands of substances that can impair human performance; of these, the lab can only test about 50. Our current standard is to identify about 75% of the drugs in use, but we hope to increase this number to 90% using recent technological advances at the laboratory.


Q: How should fire debris evidence be packaged?

A: In an air tight container that is not plastic: standard arson kits provided free of charge to law enforcement agencies and fire departments are the most preferred way. Paper and plastic bags are never acceptable.

Q: Can both Ignitable liquid analyses AND DNA be done on an item?

A: Yes. Package the clothing or object in a standard Arson Can and be sure to FREEZE the sample. This is the only exception to the standard DNA packaging requirements.

Q: Can I use the new GSR-SEM kits for surfaces other than hands?

A: Yes. Hands are still the preferred sample because it implicates the most recent time frame since the shooting incident. Surfaces such as a car steering wheel, car door, or a glove that may have been worn at the time of the shooting are also acceptable; however, the recent time frame is lost on these types of evidence.

Q: Why can’t all automotive paint chips be run on the international database?

A: Only paint samples from original finishes direct from the automotive factories are in the PDQ (Paint Database Query) database. The samples are managed by the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Automotive re-paints and paint-overs are not candidates for the system; however, they can be compared to a specific vehicle if it is known.

Q: How much paint is needed to submit as a standard?

A: The lab would like to receive a sample size of about a dime for a paint standard. Equally important is that all the layers of paint are sampled.

Q: Why do I need to take 30 head or pubic hairs as a standard for comparison in a Trace Kit or Sexual Assault Kit?

A: Human hairs can vary widely over the head and pubic areas in color, shape, length, and other features. A person with brown hair, for example, can have 4 or 5 different shades of brown on their head. Collecting 30 hairs from all parts of the area to be sampled (from the front, back, sides and top of the head, for example) allows us to see the range of features of that person’s hair. From this we can determine if an unknown hair looks like those hairs under the microscope.

Q: What is a good method of evidence collection for hairs and fibers?

A: After hairs and fibers that can be seen with a bright light are collected from a crime scene, the Trace Evidence Tape Kits are the best way to collect hair and fiber evidence on items that cannot be easily sent to the laboratory, such as vehicle seats and carpets. The tape lifts will pick up hairs and fibers that are very small or not easy to see, which may have been recently deposited.

Q: Can you identify the source of the ignitable liquid?

A: No. Most of the time petroleum products come from the same oil refinery even though they may be different brands.