Saturday, 13 April 2024

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Proper Packaging for Forensic Evidence Can Save Innocent Lives

Imagine you are convicted of a crime you did not commit and sentenced to die. You are in prison for several years during an appeals process, when finally a shining hope of being released in the form of new DNA evidence comes into play. The evidence is packaged and sent to a lab to exonerate you of the crime, except the package is destroyed during transit. The evidence that could have exonerated you is now contaminated. How angry would you feel? How defeated would you be? Something that seemed so easy to prevent from happening occurs. Your good name will never be restored, and you live the rest of your life in prison all because of a defective package. This was a very real scenario for a man by the name of Nick Yarris.

Yarris tells the story of his 21 years on death row in Pennsylvania in the documentary film, “The Fear of 13” on Netflix. One of the low points of his story was the mispackaged DNA evidence that had the potential of exonerating him of murder ten years into his sentence. Because of issues like this, it is important to educate evidence managers on proper packaging techniques used for shipping DNA Specimens to test labs. This article will serve as a general guideline for proper forensic packaging and highlight acceptable practices.

Guidelines for Packaging Evidence

Solid Packaging

Firearms, knives, sharp objects, and glass

These items should be placed in a sealable plastic evidence bag. The bagged article should be placed inside a rigid corrugated container. Bubble wrap should be placed inside to fill the empty container space to prevent excessive movement.

  • If packaging a Firearm; always ship unloaded.
  • Bullets, shells and clips should be shipped in a separate container.
  • If packaging Glass; place in a sealed rigid paperfold. It should be labeled, place inside of a hard plastic pill box. Larger pieces of glass should be thoroughly wrapped in bubble wrap and placed in a rigid container.

Liquid Packaging

Blood, urine, semen, and saliva

There are four levels of packaging that must be utilized when shipping liquids: A primary watertight container, watertight secondary container, absorbent material surrounding both the primary and secondary levels and finally a rigid over box sealed with three inch pressure sensitive tape. Primary containers, made of metal, glass, and plastic, must be watertight and leak proof. Secondary containers include sealed plastic bags and varying canisters. Absorbent materials, such as cotton balls and paper towels, should be inside the secondary watertight containers surrounding the primary container and additionally surrounding the outside of the secondary container. Finally, a rigid plywood box is the preferred outer packaging. However, if a sample needs to be kept cool, a lockable rigid cooler is the suggested form of outer packaging.

However, there are restrictions for all samples that are to be shipped. These restrictions include:

  • Never Freeze blood samples; however, they may be placed in refrigeration if necessary.
  • No more than a one Liter of liquid should be shipped.
  • For Explosives, consult the Explosives Safety Checklist


Make sure Proper warning labels, Biological Hazard, Dangerous Good or Hazmat information is displayed on the outside of the box. Check with your parcel carrier for information (I.e. FedEx, UPS, or USPS). Personal delivery is always the preferred method of delivery. All items that are flammable or chemically hazardous are required to be hand delivered to prevent mishandling or loss.

Final Thoughts

These guidelines can help prevent test items from being improperly packaged or damaged during transit. If proper packaged forensic samples can save the life of one individual, it is worth taking the extra steps to do it correctly.


“Guidance for Collection, Transport and Submission of Specimens for Ebola Virus Testing." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 05 Feb. 2015. Web. 25 July 2016.

" Packaging Guidelines for Clinical Samples." Packaging Guidelines for Clinical Samples (n.d.): n. pag. Web, 2009.

"Pointers on Shipping: Clinical Samples, Biological Substance Category B (UN 3373) and Environmental Test Samples." Clinical Samples, Biological Substance Category B (UN 3373) and Environmental Test Samples At FedEx, We Understand the Importance of Ensuring (2007): 1-6.


"Evidence Shipping Guidelines." Georgia Bureau of Investigation Division of Forensic Sciences. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2016.

"Forensic Services Guide Washington State Patrol Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau." (2015): 1-113.Http:// Washington State Patrol Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau. Web.


Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory Division Explosive Safety and Evidence Checklist:

Riley, C. (Producer), & Sington, D. (Director). (2015). The Fear of 13 [Documentary]. United Kindom: Dogwoof. (NetFlix)

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