November 23, 2014
Final Reports
San Mateo Courts - Civil Grand Jury

2002 Report:

Handling Forensic Evidence

Summary | Background | Findings | Conclusions | Recommendations| Responses

Summary:

The Grand Jury investigated how forensic evidence is handled by San Mateo County law enforcement agencies, the District Attorney's Office, and in particular the San Mateo County Forensic Laboratory (Crime Lab).

The San Mateo County Forensic Laboratory advised the Grand Jury that it is 50% understaffed and operates under severe budget restraints. Some Crime Lab management have been spending 60% of their time doing casework in addition to supervisory responsibilities in an attempt to reduce the backlog of work. The Crime Lab's management deficiencies, which are similar to the situation of the Houston Crime Lab that resulted in the closure of its DNA laboratory, is a concern and an outcome the Grand Jury does not want repeated in San Mateo County.

The complexity of the issues dictates the report be structured in three major sections with three appendices:

I. Crime Lab Management and Oversight

Vision and Mission
Management of Client Priorities
Client Perspective of Quality of Services
Performance Management
Accreditation Management
Budget and Financial Management
Recommendations for Management and Oversight


II. Laboratory Operations

Work Force Utilization
DNA Testing Capability
Equipment
Crime Scene Investigation
Laboratory Documentation of Policy and Procedures

III. Evidence Management

Evidence Control
Evidence Storage

Appendix A:

Comparison of the San Mateo County Forensic Laboratory with ASCLD/LAB Accreditation Criteria

Appendix B:

List of All Grand Jury Recommendations
(Excluding the criteria for accreditation listed in Appendix A)

Appendix C:

Glossary of Terms

The following is an overview of each section of the report with a summarization of Grand Jury recommendations.

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Issue: Are effective processes, procedures, and standards in place and followed by the San Mateo County Forensic Laboratory to ensure proper handling of evidence, and to provide unbiased scientific analysis for crime investigations by law enforcement agencies and for prosecution of criminals by the District Attorney's Office?

Background:

The Grand Jury investigated how forensic evidence is handled by San Mateo County law enforcement agencies, the District Attorney's Office, and in particular the operations of the San Mateo County Forensic Laboratory (Crime Lab).

The Crime Lab is part of the Support Services Division of the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office. It provides forensic services with county funds to the county's law enforcement agencies, the Sheriff's Office, the District Attorney's Office, the Probation Department, and sometimes to the California Highway Patrol, local fire departments, California Department of Forestry, Animal Control Services, SamTrans, and Amtrak. The Crime Lab may perform forensic testing on any case that occurs in San Mateo County, be it a local, state, or federal crime.

The services provided include crime scene investigation, toxicology, analysis of controlled substances, firearms, gun shot residue, trace evidence (e.g., hair, fiber, paint), questioned documents, latent prints, DNA screening and limited DNA analysis.

The San Mateo County Forensic Laboratory Director is a civilian who oversees a staff of 25 people and reports to a Captain. The staff is comprised of 14 scientists, 7 forensic specialists, a property officer and 3 staff support.

The Crime Lab has existed many years in a building that is in violation of Health and Safety Codes, has respiratory disease causing mold spores, lacks adequate ventilation, has insufficient emergency showers and eyewashes, electricity that is not grounded, and is basically unsafe for continued use. In spite of budget limitations and the failure of the voters to pass a bond measure, a new state of the art crime lab building has been constructed and provides a more efficient work environment for the laboratory staff. The costs to build this facility are covered by a Local Forensic Laboratory Improvement Program grant from the Office of Criminal Justice Planning, a 30-year loan, and general funds from the Sheriff's budget. The Crime Lab began its move into the new building in March 2003. The building has won awards and the Sheriff is to be commended for his successful efforts to complete this construction.

Interviews were conducted with several judges, attorneys in the District Attorney's Office, defense attorneys, members of the Private Defender Program, and police chiefs and law enforcement officers. Tours and interviews with management and personnel of the San Mateo County Forensic
Laboratory (both the old and the new facility) and the Santa Clara County Crime Lab were conducted.

A survey was sent to all San Mateo County police chiefs and the Sheriff's investigation units to obtain data regarding the number of major crimes (homicide and rape cases) that occurred in their jurisdictions annually from 1997 through 2002. They also provided information regarding crime scene investigations, field evidence technicians, guidelines for evidence collection, packaging and storage, and their interactions with the Crime Lab.

The Grand Jury obtained draft copies of Crime Lab manuals (policies and procedures, administrative and technical guidelines), equipment inventory and calibration logs, personnel training and proficiency records, the FY 2001-03 Budget Worksheet, grant applications, Strategic Plan, accreditation self-audit results, and volumes of tests performed in the lab in the last five years. The Grand Jury also reviewed some laboratory major crime case files, toxicology and blood alcohol case files, including evidence chain of custody logs.

The Grand Jury reviewed the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB) Manual; researched articles and materials regarding the handling of forensic evidence from the Governor's Office of Criminal Justice Planning, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the New York State Forensic Science Commission, the California Department of Justice, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and the Institute of Forensic Sciences; reviewed the County of Santa Clara Grand Jury 1988-1989 Final Report which reported findings from an investigation of the Santa Clara County Crime Lab; reviewed forensic science texts; reviewed the findings of the standardized quality assurance audit of the Houston Police Department Crime Lab; reviewed documentation regarding the handling of forensic evidence from the Coroner's Office and the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office.

Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations:


To download the complete report which contains all of the findings, conclusions and recommendations, please click on the link below:

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Response


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