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Shopping bag or exhibit bag?

Written by: Alan Baker 20th March, 2017

It’s often said that the quality of any forensic work is only as good as the quality of what’s happened before an item gets to the laboratory.

In the not-too-distant past, when items such as clothing or footwear were seized from an individual, the exhibit bags would remain sealed until the items arrived at the lab and the scientist would then check the integrity of seals and the continuity of the item. Over the years, I was involved in many cases where an item’s integrity could not be guaranteed and we simply refused to accept it into the lab.

Nowadays,  items are often opened after their initial packaging, to check, for example,  on the type of footwear pattern and then re-sealed for possible laboratory submission. That’s bad enough.

However, a recent case took things to a more serous level. In a glass evidence case, the arresting officer seized the defendant’s footwear and clothing (7 items) at the police station and initially placed them into separate exhibit bags. Seemingly, at that point, he did not seal the bags.

The Officer then took the bags into another office whereupon he removed each item and individually examined and photographed them using the same desk covering each time (but was wearing gloves!!)  He noticed the presence of glass-like fragments embedded in the soles of the shoes.

The Officer then sealed each exhibit bag.

The above is, in my opinion, a serious failure in the forensic process and at no time after an item’s collection should an exhibit bag be opened in an uncontrolled environment.

There are a further two points to consider:

  1. The officer was seemingly unaware of forensic protocol;
  2. It it wasn’t for the details in the Officer’s Statement, we would be none the wiser about what happened on his desk. Just how many times does that happen and we don’t know about it?

The conclusion to this case could have been very different if it wasn’t for the fact that the defendant’s jacket bore about 100 matching glass fragments (with the control glass from the scene) but what would have happened if there had only been a 2 or 3?

Either a waste of police money or contentious forensic evidence?

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