Handbook Assists in Preserving Biological Evidence

The National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice created it for forensic laboratories, law enforcement agencies, and the judicial system.

A new handbook by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Justice's National Institute of Justice (NIJ) contains state-of-the-art guidelines and recommended best practices for preserving biological evidence so that it is available at any time to solve "cold cases," confirm the guilt of criminals, or exonerate innocent people. It's intended for use by forensic laboratories, law enforcement agencies, and the judicial system.

The Biological Evidence Preservation Handbook: Best Practices for Evidence Handlers (NIST Interagency/Internal Report 7928) is designed to help ensure the evidence has been properly stored to avoid contamination, premature destruction, or degradation and is accurately tracked to prevent loss. It was authored and edited by the Technical Working Group on Biological Evidence Preservation, 20 experts from forensic, law enforcement and scientific disciplines.

Biological evidence refers to two types of evidence commonly recovered from crime scenes or collected during criminal investigations: biological material-- blood, semen, and other bodily fluids; hair; tissue; bones and teeth -- or items containing biological material, such as a bloody shirt.

The handbook is divided into five main sections that contain recommendations related to:

  • Retention -- identifying what biological evidence should be kept and for how long
  • Safe handling, including the use of protective equipment, the management of spills or accidents, and methods for properly disposing waste
  • Packaging and storing -- outlining the conditions for storage and how to properly package biological evidence to maintain its integrity
  • Chain of custody and tracking -- a review of the different evidence-tracking methods available and procedures for improving all aspects of chain-of-custody recordkeeping
  • Disposition, summarizing the best practices for disposing of biological evidence once retention is no longer required by law

While most of its recommendations concern the physical storage, preservation, and tracking of evidence at a specific storage facility, the handbook also covers transferring material between a storage facility and other locations and discusses how evidence should be handled at these different sites.

To download NISTIR 7928, visit http://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/ir/2013/NIST.IR.7928.pdf. Print copies are available upon request from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service at https://www.ncjrs.gov.

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