Monder Law Group - News
Inside the Lab
If you are pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you will likely be asked to submit to blood alcohol tests, typically in the form of a breath test or blood draw. While chemical breath tests may be administered by trained police officers at the station, the rules are very different when it comes to blood draws. You may think that police officers are the ones doing any and all of the parts of the tests when it comes to DUI offenses, but this is a common misconception.
The proper operation of a forensic laboratory is a complex process that integrates management functions and scientific activities. The forensic process begins with the proper collection of the specimen, and continues through to the reporting of results. Thus, the proper management of a laboratory is important. However, the performance of the forensic process can have an even more significant impact on the reliability and quality of the analysis of evidence. Private organizations, the federal agencies (e.g., the Department of Transportation, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Department of Health and Human Services), and State and County crime labs all have procedures in place to cover all aspects of the process.
All laboratories, whether clinical or forensic, develop procedures for the smooth and efficient operation of their laboratory. These guidelines are generally documented in the laboratory’s Standard Operating Procedure (“SOP”).
At minimum, a forensic laboratory must have guidelines for the following:
Preparation of the evidence collection kits.
- Collection of the evidence.
- Chain of custody.
- Receipt of the evidence at the laboratory.
- Storage and security of the evidence.
- Analysis of the evidence.
- Reporting of the analytical results.
- Any related activity.
The umbrella under which the laboratory operation is conducted is a set of guidelines published by the procedures of Good Laboratory Practice (GLP). The GLP guidelines help ensure that the laboratory’s results are accurate and reliable.
The GLP sets out the following:
- A director who oversees the project or testing procedure.
- Quality Assurance (QA).
- Qualified personnel.
- Maintenance of raw data.
- A Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).
- Regulation of reagents and controls.
- Maintenance and calibration of the instruments.
Who is Authorized to Take a Blood Sample?
Police officers have neither the training nor legal authority to be the ones who physically conduct blood draws pursuant to a DUI arrest. While there are no general rules on the qualifications of those people authorized to draw a blood sample, the only requirement is that a clinical laboratory that is licensed and approved by the California Department of Health must perform the actual testing of the blood.
What Happens Once the Blood Is Drawn?
Collection of the urine or blood specimen generally starts with the collector/phlebotomist opening up a pre-packaged laboratory collection kit. For blood specimens, the blood kit generally contains one or two “grey-top” blood collection tubes, a non-alcoholic swab for cleaning the injection site prior to blood withdrawal, a checklist delineating the steps the collector must follow, labels to put on the blood vials, and an evidence collection envelope, upon which the chain of custody and donor information are placed. For urine specimens, the kit generally contains a commercial urine collection jar, or one made up by the laboratory, along with a checklist, labels to put on the container, and an evidence collection envelope.
All biological specimens must be preserved properly. The blood vials must contain a preservative and an also an anticoagulant. The preservative helps maintain the integrity of the specimen by hindering the growth of microorganisms, and the anticoagulant keeps the blood from clotting. Both of these chemicals are white powders or granules which can be easily seen by the phlebotomist prior to the blood draw. The urine containers do not need an anticoagulant, since urine is all liquid. However, preservative is still necessary to keep microorganisms, which can easily enter the collection container, from producing ethanol.
How Is It Proven That The Lab Follows Protocol?
Scientists must be certain that the proper protocols were followed in the collection and transportation of the specimen to the laboratory. The scientist should evaluate the evidence, or ask the blood draw technician:
- Was the blood specimen collected using sterile needles?
- Was the blood specimen deposited in a clean, dry container?
- Was the blood draw from the vein, artery, or capillary?
- Was the blood adequately mixed with the anticoagulant and preservative?
- Did the collector note if the blood tube contained the proper amount of preservative?
- Was the vacuum seal on the tube intact (if a vacuum tube was used)?
- Was the skin cleansed properly prior to collection?
- Was the disinfectant used to clean the skin full strength or diluted?
- Did the disinfectant contain alcohol?
- Was any of the equipment used reusable, or disposable only?
- Was the identification label placed on the collection tube prior to the draw?
- Was the sample placed immediately into a sample envelope and sealed?
- When was the chain of custody signed?