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Fire Scene Evidence Collection Guide


Undamaged Documents

Detailed Procedure:

Documents are often fragile. Handle all documents minimally and carefully to avoid damage and to preserve potential fingerprints. Special care should be taken to preserve the structural integrity of these documents. Do not attempt to separate, unfold, flatten, or otherwise manipulate fragile documents. If necessary to avoid disturbing and potentially damaging the documents, cut away the item under the documents and place the entire stack in the collection container.

If a handwritten questioned document is found, be alert for notebooks, pads, or other paper items that may be where the questioned document was written. The remaining pages may bear an impression of the writing that was done on the page that used to be on top. Collect these items as you would a questioned document, being careful to preserve the surface where the impression is located.

Original documents, not copies, should be submitted for examination.

To collect undamaged documents:

  1. Photograph the item in place.

  2. Wear new, unused, clean latex or nitrile gloves.

  3. Label a collection container large enough for the item, such as a box, envelope, or plastic tub, with identifying information, including case number, date, exhibit number, a brief description, and your name. Label the container before inserting the documents so that your writing instrument does not accidentally make an impression on the document in the container.

  4. Recover the document by carefully lifting it and placing it in the container. Handle the document only by its edges and avoid using forceps that may dent the document. If the document needs extra support, slide clean, rigid cardboard or a wide mudknife underneath it before lifting it into the container. If the document is wet, air dry it in still, warm air prior to packaging by placing it on a clean sheet of paper at room temperature, away from direct heat, sunlight, or drafts. Be sure to check with your lab before you perform this procedure. Some laboratories prefer you preserve the wet documents in a container with the liquid prior to analysis. Unless otherwise instructed by the laboratory, do not package wet documents; they may deteriorate. Do not spray documents with lacquer or hair spray in an attempt to preserve them. Do not staple, pin, fold, or otherwise alter the document.

  5. Place the item in the container and secure it, taking care to avoid areas where fingerprints might be lifted.

  6. Store the item in a secure location, such as a locked evidence van or your vehicle, until you are able to transport it to the laboratory.

  7. Work with the laboratory to determine the sequence of examination if you are requesting more than one kind of testing.

If the documents will also be examined for ignitable liquid residue, please consult the laboratory for the proper collection procedure. Items should not be air-dried or packaged in an air-permeable container if they will be examined for ignitable liquid residue.

Laboratory testing of documents:

Documents can be examined for impressions, paper and ink type, handwriting analysis, and comparison to an exemplar or a writing tool (such as a typewriter or printer). Documents may also bear fingerprints, trace, toolmarks, or tears that can be compared to another fragment.

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