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lwpat, Criminal Lawyer
Category: Criminal Law
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Experience:  Practicing criminal defense attorney
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What steps must be completed to ensure firearms evidence is

Resolved Question:

What steps must be completed to ensure firearms evidence is correctly collected and preserved?
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: Criminal Law
Expert:  lwpat replied 5 years ago.
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Firearms evidence is usually encountered in crimes against persons such as homicide, assault and
robbery; but may also be found in other crimes such as burglary, rape, and narcotics violations.
While comparisons of bullets and cartridge cases to specific firearms are the most common
examinations requested, other examinations are possible such as: distance determinations based on
powder residue or shot spread; examination of firearms for functioning or modification; sequence of
shots fired and trajectories; list of possible weapons used; serial number restoration and ownership
Evidence of firing or handling a firearm may be detected through the analysis of gunshot residue
collected from a persons hands or other body surfaces. (see PEB 15 12/90).
The location and condition of firearms and related evidence at a crime scene should be diagrammed and
photographed before recovering and securing. Although physical evidence is important, safety must
be the first consideration. Each situation should be evaluated before deciding to unload an evidence
firearm. (Caution, treat a firearm at all times as if it were loaded). If the weapon is a type that can be
safely transported in a loaded condition, this can be done. However, depending on the circumstances it
may be unnecessary or unwise to transport a loaded firearm. It should then be unloaded, with care
taken to preserve all types of possible evidence. This evidence includes fingerprints, blood, hair or
fibers, cylinder "halos", and debris in the barrel and/or cylinder. The weapon should be handled on
those areas least likely to retain latent fingerprints such as knurled or checkered areas.

Examine the weapon for possible trace evidence such as blood, hair, fibers, tissue, or paint that may be
relevant. If it doubt, do not dust for prints. Submit in person to the laboratory and request that the
firearm be processed for prints.
Personal delivery is preferred. A loaded handgun may be transported in a specially constructed box
which has a means of securely holding the firearm and has a metal plate blocking the muzzle. If the
firearm is to be sent by mail it must be unloaded and securely packaged.

Make a sketch of the area which shows the location of each evidence item collected. The sketch should
contain location measurements which reference each evidence item to a fixed object or a reference point.
Photographs should be used to supplement notes and sketches, but not as a substitute for them. For later
identification the serial number of a firearm should be recorded. Some older rifles and shotguns,
however, may not have a serial number. If the firearm is marked for identification by scribing, the marks
should be placed in a location were they will not damage the appearance or value of the firearm.
Do not attempt to dig a bullet out. Remove by cutting out a portion of tile material in which the bullet is
embedded. Send the piece of material containing the bullet to the laboratory.
X-ray the body first. Ask the doctor not to use forceps, but, if possible, to use his fingers or rubbertipped
forceps to remove bullets. Bloody bullets should be washed in running water without scrubbing.
Do not wash a projectile if trace evidence might be present such as may occur in a ricochet or deflection.
If a bullet is washed do not use a brush or other item for cleaning. After washing it is IMPERATIVE
bullets be dried prior to packaging. Dry the bullets by blotting (not rolling) with a soft dry facial or toilet
tissue. Sealing a bloody or wet bullet in an air-tight package can cause corrosion of identifiable detail on
the bullet. Wrap in soft tissue paper and seal in a labeled paper envelope or box. Package each bullet
separately. DO NOT MARK the bullet or allow it to be marked. Mark the sealed container with a
description of the bullet and all other pertinent data. You may wish to make a sketch of the bullet for
your records. If you wish consultation on these procedures as they relate to your specific case, call the
local criminalistics laboratory.
CARTRIDGE CASES: It may be possible to determine the position of a shooter by the location of ejected
cartridge casings. Make a sketch with ACCURATE measurements of the location of fired cartridge
cases. Again, package each item separately and mark the packages with the pertinent information.
SHOT WADS: When a shotgun is fired, the wads travel along with, or behind, the shot charge for a short
distance. In those cases involving close shots, wadding may be found in either the victim's body or in his
clothing. Follow same packaging procedure as for bullets.
SHOT PELLETS: For pellets embedded in wood, plastic, etc., handle in same manner as bullets
embedded in solid objects. If it is not possible to submit the material in which pellets are embedded,
pellets may be dug out, taking care not to mutilate them any more than is absolutely necessary. In
removal of pellets from the body of a deceased person, x-rays can help locate the pellets. Use special care
in recovering pellets so that there will not be undue damage to them. Rubber-tipped forceps should be
used. After washing, wrap collected pellets in soft tissue paper and place in a labeled pill box, or small

LOADED SHELLS OR CARTRIDGES: Collect and submit to the laboratory all ammunition associated
with a case. It can be used for test firing and distance determinations. Exactly duplicating the
ammunition used may be critical. Document where such ammunition was found. If the number of
cartridges are relatively few, they can be handled in the same manner as fired bullets. Large quantities
should be placed in a cardboard box or wooden container. Label, seal, and deliver to the laboratory.
Note: Postal regulations prohibit shipment of explosive substances through the mail. Loaded ammunition
should be personally delivered or sent by UPS with the proper warning labels.
In some cases, such as suicides and alleged struggles for the gun, the distance between the muzzle of the
gun and the victim may become an issue and it will be desirable to examine garments for powder residue
and other indications of close firing. For protection in transporting, the clothing of the victim should be
rolled (after air drying) with paper on each surface. Package separately so that the area surrounding the
bullet hole does not rub against other clothing or objects. When bullets have passed through garments into
the body, a clear photograph of the bullet hole positions in the victim is desirable. Include a ruler in all
photographs. Submit the firearm and the unfired ammunition associated with the incident. The use of
identical ammunition is an essential part of firing distance determinations.
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