FAQ

Evidence Submission Questions

  • Who can submit evidence to the Department of Forensic Science?

  • The Department of Forensic Science (DFS), established by Virginia law, provides "forensic laboratory services upon request of the Superintendent of State Police; the Chief Medical Examiner, the Assistant Chief Medical Examiners, and local medical examiners; any attorney for the Commonwealth; any chief of police, sheriff, or sergeant responsible for law enforcement in the jurisdiction served by him; any local fire department; the head of any private police department that has been designated as a criminal justice agency by the Department of Criminal Justice Services as defined by § 9.1-101; or any state agency in any criminal matter. The Department shall provide such services to any federal investigatory agency within available resources."  (Code of Virginia, § 9.1-1101, emphasis added)
  • When can I submit evidence to the laboratory?

  • Each of the four laboratories is open Monday through Friday from  8:00 AM to 5:00 PM to accept and return evidence.  However, laboratories will be closed on State holidays.
  • How do I submit evidence to the Department for testing?

  • Evidence submission information and instructions are provided in the Evidence Handling& Laboratory Capabilities Guide beginning on page I-1.
  • How can I receive Forensic Services that are not offered in my regional area?

  • Evidence may be submitted to your designated regional laboratory.  If the requested examination is not performed at your regional laboratory, the case will be transferred within DFS to another one of our laboratories that does perform the examination.  For example, if a Questioned Documents examination is required in Virginia Beach, the evidence should be submitted to the Eastern Laboratory in Norfolk, and DFS will transfer it to the Western Laboratory in Roanoke.
  • Why does the Certificate of Analysis have a Richmond address if the evidence was submitted to the Northern Laboratory?

  • Cases may be transferred within the Department to maximize staff resources.  All Department of Forensic Science laboratories follow the same Quality Manual and same technical procedures.
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Breath Alcohol

  • Are breath tests accurate?

  • Yes, breath tests are very accurate. The instrumentation is held to a standard of 3% or 0.003 g/210 L of vapor (whichever is greater) for accuracy, and 0.003 g/210 L of vapor for precision.
  • What is the purpose of the 20 minute observation?

  • To allow any residual mouth alcohol to be absorbed.
  • Can dentures affect a breath test? What about tongue rings?

  • Dentures and tongue rings do not affect the breath test result as long as a 20 minute observation is performed.
  • Can a penny under the tongue influence the reading?

  • This belief is incorrect. A penny under the tongue does not contribute to or alter the breath reading.
  • If a person has asthma, can they provide a breath sample?

  • Yes, people with asthma can typically provide breath samples.
  • If someone has a dose of cough medicine, will it contribute to the reading?

  • Following the normal dosing instructions, cough medicine will not produce a blood alcohol reading.
  • How long does it take to eliminate alcohol?

  • Average elimination rates range from 0.010 to 0.020 g/210L per hour.  For example, an individual with a 0.10 Breath Alcohol Concentration (BAC) would reach a 0.00 BAC in 5 to 10 hours.
  • Will coffee, cold showers and exercise help "sober up" someone who has been drinking?

  • Only the passage of time will "sober up" an individual.
  • How do I contact the Breath Alcohol Section?

  • The Breath Alcohol Section can be reached at (804) 786-6971 or by FAX at (804) 786-6139.

Breath Alcohol Class Questions

  • Where are Breath Alcohol Initial Operator classes conducted?

  • At the BioTech 8 building in Richmond. The building is located at 737 N. 5th Street (directly across the street from the Central Laboratory). The classroom is on the 3rd floor.  Directions are located on the Breath Alcohol Training page.
  • Who notifies operators about Retraining dates?

  • The Breath Alcohol Section will notify the law enforcement agency approximately eight weeks prior to the class. Retraining classes are conducted in the following areas: Richmond, Manassas, Tidewater, Roanoke, Blackstone and Bristol.
  • What happens if an operator misses a retraining class and his license expires?

  • Once an operator's license expires, the operator cannot run a test.  The instruments will not accept an expired license. An operator has a one-year period to take a Retraining class. If this year expires without the operator successfully completing Retraining requirements, the operator must attend another Basic (Initial) Operator's class. Any operator who misses a scheduled class should contact the Breath Alcohol Section.
  • Are there any costs associated with the training?

  • There is no fee for the class.  Law enforcement agencies are responsible for covering student expenses.  DFS may have grant funds available, however, to assist with the cost of student lodging.  Please contact the Breath Alcohol Section for details.

Information Request

  • How do I request information from the Breath Alcohol Section?

  • For authenticated records, requests must be submitted in writing, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Further guidance on written FOIA requests can be found here. A searchable database for electronic records is also available; however, the Department cannot authenticate electronic records, once printed, as being unaltered, complete, and/or accurate.  Click here to access the Breath Alcohol Online Instrument Records page.

Digital and Multimedia Evidence

  • How should mobile devices be packaged to prevent loss of evidence (data)?

  • Mobile devices should be shielded from communication networks at the time of seizure to avoid alteration or loss of evidence. This can be accomplished in one of the following ways:
    • Power down the device via its interface and remove the battery. If unable to do either, enable the device's "Airplane Mode" – a setting available on many mobile devices that suspends the device's signal transmitting/receiving functions.
      • Also, if a GSM network (e.g. AT&T, T-Mobile and subsidiaries/resellers) compatible device, remove the SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card (if present) and submit it as a separate evidence item.
    • Package the item at the time of seizure to provide a multi-layer approach for static dissipation and effective shielding.
    The Virginia Department of Forensic Science recommends mobile devices be packaged at the time of seizure and prior to lab submission as follows:
    1. Place in an anti-static bag
    2. Wrap in aluminum foil (5 times with heavy duty or 10 times with standard thickness)
      1.  This step can be skipped if the device's battery has been removed or "Airplane Mode" has been enabled.
    3. Place in a >3 mil thick shielded enclosure (e.g. "Faraday" bag)
      1. This step can be skipped if the device's battery has been removed  or "Airplane Mode" has been enabled.
    4. Place in an outer storage bag (container) and seal.
    Packaging kits may be available from a third party vendor for purchase.   For ease, the mobile device may be packaged in an appropriately sized kit at the time of seizure and prior to lab submission  
  • Can you analyze a device protected by a security measure?

  • The DME Section maintains capabilities for bypassing security measures on a multitude of devices.  Please contact the DME Section for guidance specific to the device.
  • Can you recover deleted text messages from a mobile phone?

  • The ability to recover deleted text messages depends on the make and model of the mobile phone, the length of time that has passed since the messages were deleted, the number of new text messages that have been sent or received since the messages were deleted, whether the deleted messages have been overwritten, and if phone has been reset or restored. Please contact the Digital & Multimedia Evidence section for additional information.
  • Can you determine location information from a mobile device?

  • Depending on the device's capabilities and settings, Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates and available/connected WiFi access point identifiers may be present.  This information can be extracted and interpreted to determine locations the device was near. Please contact the Digital & Multimedia Evidence section for additional information.
  • Can you determine what Internet resources a user has accessed?

  • Most web-browsers and web-based applications, record a user’s activity – logging what Internet resources were accessed.  Even when a user attempts to delete this information, the browsing activity can often be recovered.  If the data hasn’t been overwritten, the exact time, resource and content of the activity may be available. Please contact the Digital & Multimedia Evidence section for additional information.

Forensic Biology

  • Who is required to provide a sample for entry of the resulting DNA profile into the Virginia DNA Data Bank?

  • Every person required to register for the Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry (Code of Virginia § 9.1-903), all individuals who have been convicted of a felony offense on or after July 1, 1990  or certain misdemeanors (Code of Virginia § 19.2-310.2), and juveniles 14 years or older who are convicted of a felony or adjudicated delinquent on the basis on an act which would be a felony if committed by an adult (Code of Virginia § 16.1-299.1) are required to provide a blood or buccal (cheek cells) sample for DNA analysis, with incorporation of the resulting DNA profile into the Virginia DNA Data Bank. Additionally, as of January 1, 2003, any individual arrested for a violent felony crime (Code of Virginia § 19.2-310.2:1) must provide a buccal sample for DNA analysis, with the resultant profile incorporated into the Virginia DNA Data Bank (Code of Virginia § 19.2-310.5).  Inclusion in the DNA data bank may also be ordered pursuant to plea agreement in Circuit Court.
  • What is CODIS?

  • CODIS stands for Combined DNA Index System. It is a national system of computer databases designed by the FBI to store DNA profiles from individuals as well as crime scene evidence. Any DNA profile developed from the evidence in a case with no suspects can then be searched against the databases, and possible investigative leads developed from any matching profiles in the database.
  • On what types of cases can a CODIS search be conducted?

  • CODIS searches can be conducted on the DNA profiles developed from biological evidence in cases where the identity of the perpetrator is unknown to the investigator. In theory, any biological material could yield a DNA profile if there is a sufficient number of cells from the perpetrator.
  • What does a CODIS "hit" mean?

  • A CODIS "hit" can be made by a DNA profile from evidence in an unsolved case matching the DNA profile from a convicted offender or an arrestee. A "hit" can also be made between evidence in an unsolved case and another unsolved case or to a previously solved case. The fact that the DNA profiles matched is meant to provide an investigative lead to the detective or investigator, to help solve the particular unsolved case. He/she will need to conduct further investigation to determine any possible involvement of the convicted offender, arrestee, or the perpetrator of the solved case to the unsolved case in question.
  • What DNA technology does DFS use when analyzing evidence from criminal cases?

  • For autosomal DNA testing, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science currently uses Promega's PowerPlex® 16 System, which includes the D3S1358, TH01, D21S11, D18S51, vWA, D8S1179, TPOX, FGA, D5S818, D13S317, D7S820, D16S539, CSF1PO, Penta D, Penta E, and Amelogenin loci.
  • What types of samples are typically subjected to Mitochondrial DNA testing?

  • Bone samples and hair shafts are typically tested with Mitochondrial DNA.
  • Why are statistics provided in DNA reports?

  • The statistic provides an estimate for how common or rare the DNA type is estimated to be in the general population.
  • Can DNA testing be conducted without reference samples?

  • Yes, DNA testing can be conducted without reference samples. However, if reference samples are available they are encouraged to be submitted to the laboratory.
  • When should a PERK be submitted to the laboratory for analysis?

  • Pursuant to Virginia Code § 19.2-11.8, a law-enforcement agency that receives a physical evidence recovery kit (PERK) collected from a victim who has reported the offense shall submit the physical evidence recovery kit to DFS for analysis within 60 days of receipt, except under the following circumstances: (i) it is an anonymous PERK; (ii) the PERK was collected by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner as part of a routine death investigation, and the medical examiner and the law-enforcement agency agree that analysis is not warranted; (iii) the PERK is connected to an offense that occurred outside of the Commonwealth; or (iv) the PERK was determined by the law-enforcement agency not to be connected to a criminal offense.  This is effective July 1, 2016.

Law Enforcement

  • What do I do if I have a court date and have not received a DNA report on the evidence I submitted?

  • If you have not received a report on a case and find out that a court date has been set, notify the examiner/Forensic Biology Section as soon as possible. This will help ensure that the analysis can be completed in advance of the 21 day rule which applies to DNA analysis.
  • How can I get my case searched in the Virginia DNA Data Bank?

  • If you have a case in which there is biological material identified, but you have no suspect, the case will be searched against the DNA Data Bank. If there is a "hit" against an individual, you will receive a report stating the offender's name and other identifying information. If there is a "hit" against the DNA profile of crime scene material from another case, you will receive a report stating the FS Laboratory Number and jurisdiction of the related case. If there is not a hit, you will receive a report stating this. These cases are routinely searched as the DNA Data Bank is updated with new  profiles.
  • I have an old case that is still unsolved. Is there anything that can be done now that could help clear the case?

  • If you have an old, unsolved case that you would like to resubmit for re-evaluation, please call the Forensic Biology Section prior to submission. The case file will be retrieved and reviewed so that both the examiner and officer can discuss the possible course of analysis that could be conducted prior to the re-submission of the evidence. This communication also enables the officer to know which items of evidence to resubmit to the laboratory.
  • What paperwork is required by DFS for submission of family reference samples or an alternate known in a Missing Persons case?

  • DFS recommends the use of the Missing Person Family Reference Collection Kits. These kits can be obtained at any of the Regional Laboratories or Medical Examiner’s offices. Follow the instructions provided with the kits, and submit along with a completed Request for Laboratory Examination (RFLE). If you do not have the Missing Person Family Reference Collection Kits, download and complete this document for each reference sample being collected, and submit along with the reference samples/alternate known and a completed RFLE.

Human Resources

  • What information should I include on my application?

  • You should describe in detail all of your training and experience on your application, to include both paid and volunteer work. Ensure that all sections of the application are completed, including employment eligibility status, veteran status, salary history, and criminal convictions. It is very important that you provide complete and detailed information about your qualifications so your application can be accurately evaluated. To further describe your job duties and/or experience, you may attach a cover letter, resume, curriculum vitae, or other documents. Please note, however, that attaching a resume or CV does not substitute for a completed application.
  • How will my application be evaluated?

  • The qualifications contained in your application, along with those of all other applicants, will be compared against the knowledge, skills, abilities and other qualifications needed for the position.
  • When will I be notified if I’m selected for an interview?

  • You will be contacted if you are selected for an interview. This may take as long as a few weeks after the job posting closes. You will be notified via email if you are not selected for an interview.
  • How can I check my status for a position?

  • You may review the status of your application at any time by choosing the "Application Status" link in your personal account in RMS.
  • Are there any special conditions involved with working at DFS?

  • Criminal Conviction Investigation: In order to provide user agencies and the criminal justice system the assurance of forensic analyses of the highest caliber and integrity, the Department conducts a comprehensive criminal investigation on all selected candidates. A determination of either a job-related conviction or falsified conviction information on the application may result in denial of employment. The state application for employment requires applicants to describe any convictions of law violation(s), including moving traffic violations, but excludes offenses committed before one's eighteenth birthday. DNA sample: Because DFS employees work in proximity to submitted crime scene evidence, it is necessary for all employees of the agency to have their DNA sampled and maintained in department files. The DNA sample is obtained via buccal swab (saliva sample). Legal Eligibility for Employment: The Department of Forensic Science hires individuals that are legally authorized to work in the United States. Within the first three days of employment, you will be required to present evidence of your identity and legal authorization to work. Grant funded (restricted) positions: Some positions are grant funded (restricted). This means the salary and other costs associated with the position are paid from grant funds rather than general funds. You will be advised of the restrictions that may apply if you are offered employment in a grant funded position. Wage employment: A wage employee (part-time hourly) is limited to working 1500 hours in a 365-day period and is excluded from participating in the state's vacation, retirement, health, and life insurance programs.
  • How often is the job list updated?

  • The list of vacancies in the “Employment Opportunities” section of our website  is kept current.
  • What are the work hours?

  • The work hours for most classified positions in our labs are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Alternate work schedules are available for most positions.
  • What benefit programs are available?

  • A summary of benefits plans available to Virginia employees is available at: http://www.dhrm.virginia.gov/employeebenefits
  • What if I need help applying?

  • If you need assistance with the application/interview process or have a question about a position, contact the Human Resource Office at 804.786.0150.

Students

  • What types of internships are offered?

  • Internships are project-oriented and are designed to be mutually beneficial to the intern and the Department.  DFS does not offer internships consisting solely of "shadowing" experiences.
  • Am I qualified for an internship at DFS?

  • Internships for university students are very limited and are managed by DFS Laboratory Directors.  Priority for any available internship opportunities is given to graduate students in Virginia Commonwealth University’s forensic science program, then graduate students in forensic science programs at other colleges, and thereafter to college students in science programs at the undergraduate level.  High school students are not eligible for internships.
  • How do I apply for an unpaid internship?

  • DFS’ primary mission is to perform forensic laboratory analyses and it generally does not have staff available to handle the training of forensic science students.  Our four regional laboratories, however, occasionally have some limited opportunities for unpaid internships.  The Department routinely receives a large number of requests from students to perform internships for the limited number of slots available. Therefore, students are requested to submit their application a minimum of one semester prior to the actual semester of interest. To express interest in an internship, submit a state application form, available at this link:  https://virginiajobs.peopleadmin.com/ (you will need to compete the application on the Commonwealth’s online employment application system, then click “preview application,” and then print it).  Please direct your application and letter of interest, along with your resume, to the Laboratory Director at the regional lab for which you have interest.  Please include the area(s) of interest, your degree program, and the dates that you are available. If seeking an internship for academic credit, please provide information regarding your university’s requirements and expectations. Priority for any available internship opportunities is given to graduate students in Virginia Commonwealth University’s forensic science program, then graduate students in forensic science programs at other colleges, and thereafter to college students in science programs at the undergraduate level.
  • Where can I get more information about forensic science?

  • There are excellent online resources that provide general information about forensic science. Check your local college library for the Forensic Science Handbook, Vol. II and Vol. III by Richard Saferstein. University and medical school libraries may carry the Journal of Forensic SciencesForensic Science Society, Forensic Science International and the Canadian Society of Forensic Science Journal.
  • Which schools offer degrees in forensic science?

  • The Department of Forensic Science has an affiliation with forensic science education programs at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), located in Richmond, Virginia. VCU offers both B.S. and M.S. degrees in Forensic Science. Both programs are accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).  Several of the lecture/laboratory courses within the Masters program are taught at the DFS Central Laboratory in Richmond. More information about both degree programs can be found at http://www.has.vcu.edu/forensics. Visit the FEPAC website to obtain information about the accreditation standards and accredited programs. For additional information on forensic science education opportunities and a career brochure, visit the student section of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences website.
  • How do I get a job in forensic science?

  • The Department of Forensic Science employs forensic scientists who examine and analyze crime scene and other evidence submitted by investigating law enforcement authorities and the medical examiner’s office.  The scientists issue written reports  and testify in court regarding the outcome of their scientific analyses.  DFS forensic scientists rarely, if ever, visit an actual crime scene.  DFS scientists assist in training qualified law enforcement offices to retrieve crime scene evidence and submit it appropriately in order to preserve its value as evidence suitable for forensic laboratory analysis. Nearly all forensic scientist positions require a bachelor’s degree in a biological or physical science.  Our Forensic Toxicologists hold doctoral degrees in chemistry, toxicology or pharmacology. Advanced degrees are helpful but are not required in other forensic specialty areas. Many of our examiners have a BS degree in chemistry or biology and an MS degree in forensic science. On occasion, DFS will seek to hire a “trainee” for a position in one of its laboratories.  Such trainee positions are highly competitive and will also require undergraduate and graduate level education and coursework as noted above.  To obtain the requisite experience for a laboratory position, it may be useful to serve an unpaid internship at a forensic laboratory. This is usually easiest to do while one is a student. All positions currently available at DFS, including trainee positions, are listed on our Job Openings page. Our technical positions are also posted to the AAFS Employment Opportunities page and the ASCLD Employment Locator database.

Toxicology

  • What should I do if the DUI kit I have is past the “vacuum not guaranteed after” date?

  • The Department approves the use of other gray top, vacuum blood vials containing potassium oxalate and sodium fluoride that are of similar volume to those provided in the kit and within the expiration date printed on the vial.
  • I submitted a DUI kit, but I did not receive a Certificate of Analysis. Why?

  • In implied consent DUI/D cases, the Certificate of Analysis is sent to the clerk of the court in which the charge will be heard to comply with the Code of Virginia 18.2-268.7.
  • Who do I contact to get more DUI kits?

  • Please visit out Forensic Kits page.
  • What type of evidence should be submitted in a non-implied consent case?

  • For non-implied consent DUI/DUID, a DUI/DUID Blood Specimen Collection Kit may be used, but is not required. For all other types of cases, the type of evidence that should be collected will depend on how much time has elapsed between the event and the sample collection.  If the event (e.g., sexual assault) occurred within the last 12 hours, collect blood.  If the event occurred more than 12 hours ago, collect blood and urine.  Drugs may be detectable in urine for longer than in blood, but urine results generally cannot be used as evidence of drug impairment, merely drug use.
  • How long will it take for the report to be completed?

  • The turnaround time for a toxicology case will depend on the requested examination(s) and complexity of the case.
  • Do I need to submit an RFLE with my DUI case?

  • Yes, if the evidence is from a non-implied consent case or is being brought to the laboratory in-person.  An RFLE is not required for mailed-in DUI/D evidence collected in an implied consent case.
  • What does it mean when the report indicates that no drugs were detected?

  • There are no all-inclusive drug tests. Only specific drugs or drug categories may be addressed by any test or series of tests. When the toxicology report indicates that no drugs were detected, this merely indicates that none in the specific categories mentioned were found at or above detection limits. Lower drug concentrations cannot be excluded. Further, it does not exclude the presence of drugs in categories not tested.
  • How do implied consent DUI/DUID submissions differ from non-implied consent DUI/DUID submissions?

  • Please find below information regarding the submission and handling of non-implied consent DUI/DUID cases (and how they differ from implied consent cases):  
    Non-Implied Consent DUI/DUID Implied Consent DUI/DUID
    Evidence Collection May use DUI/DUID Blood Specimen Collection Kit Must use DUI/DUID Blood Specimen Collection Kit
    Request for Laboratory Examination form (RFLE) Must be submitted with the kit/blood vial(s) indicating suspected intoxicant(s) (alcohol or specific drugs) Not required
    Evidence Container Labelling “Non-Implied Consent Case” should be noted on the outside of the DUI/DUID Blood Specimen Collection Kit.  This notation will prompt staff to look for the RFLE and handle the Kit as a regular evidence submission No additional notation required
    Evidence Submission May be mailed or hand delivered DFS prefers Implied Consent kits to be mailed
    Certificate of Blood Withdrawal (CBW) CBW will remain with evidence and not be affixed to Certificate of Analysis Original will be affixed to Certificate of Analysis
    Certificate of Analysis Certificate of Analysis will be mailed to the submitting or arresting officer Certificate of Analysis will be mailed to the clerk of the court
    Evidence Return/Destruction DUI/DUID Blood Specimen Collection Kit/blood vial(s) will be returned to the submitting or arresting officer, as with other evidence submissions.  Law enforcement agencies should consider refrigerating this evidence upon its return. DFS is required to retain the remainder of the blood for at least 90 days before destroying it. During that time, the accused has the ability to request an order directing DFS to transmit the remainder of the blood to an independent laboratory for analysis.

DUI kitTrace Evidence

  • Why can't I submit debris from a fire scene in a plastic or paper bag?

  • Many petroleum products, or other potential accelerants, evaporate very quickly. An airtight container must be used to ensure that any product is retained in the debris rather than lost prior to analysis. We recommend clean, lined, airtight paint cans as the most appropriate containers for fire debris.
  • Will the laboratory analyze fireworks?

  • If an item is commercially labeled D.O.T. Class C. Fireworks, it is not necessary for the laboratory to analyze the chemical content of the item. The Code of Virginia lists those fireworks that are “legal” and the remainder are excluded based upon their function not chemical composition. Oftentimes a videotape of the device being set off is sufficient for court. See Code of Virginia Sections §59.1-142 and §59.1-147.
  • What is the submission criteria for primer residue kits ?

  • Requests for Primer Residue (PR) examinations of samples obtained from living persons suspected of firing a weapon will be routinely accepted.  Primer Residue kits collected from the following will not be routinely accepted: gunshot victims, inanimate objects, and individuals found in possession of a weapon.  There is no need to submit a CA letter with the submission of any PR case.   New submission guidelines are posted on our website: http://www.dfs.virginia.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Trace-Policy-Change.pdf
  • Why is a moist towelette provided with primer residue collection kits?

  • The towelette is provided for collecting officers to wipe their hands with before using the kit to sample a subject’s hands for primer residue.  Washing the hands or wearing gloves is also an option if available.  These precautions are the best way to ensure that the collecting officer is not a source of contamination on samples collected from the subject’s hands.
  • What is the best time and place to collect a primer residue sample?

  • It is best to collect at the scene or as soon as possible.  Kits collected from living individuals beyond 8 hours after an incident will not be accepted for analysis.  If the subject must be transported before being sampled, bag the hands with paper or Tyvek® bags to prevent contamination and loss of particulate.
  • What is the procedure for getting primer residue collection kits for my agency?

  • Primer residue kits are available from the Evidence Receiving Sections at each of the four DFS laboratories.

     Central Lab - Richmond

    Eastern Lab - Norfolk

    Northern Lab - Manassas

    Western Lab - Roanoke