Forensic Science Division – State Crime Lab

To learn more about the work of the Montana State Crime Laboratory, watch this recent ABC/FOX Montana news story:

The vision of the Forensic Science Division (FSD) laboratory is to maintain its accreditation status and to be a facility with a sufficient number of qualified staff, using validated scientific techniques and instrumentation to provide timely quality forensic services to the criminal justice system of Montana.

The mission of the FSD laboratory is to provide quality forensic service to the criminal justice community, incorporating the core values of objectivity, integrity, competency, professionalism and efficiency. The laboratory carries out its testing and calibration activities to meet the requirements of ISO 17025 and satisfy the needs of its users.

International Testing Accreditation-On January 9, 2011, the Montana State Crime lab was awarded accreditation by ASCLD/LAB (American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board) under the International Testing requirements ISO 17025:2005 and ASCLD/LAB International Supplemental Requirements. The Montana lab joins other national and international laboratories who have achieved this accreditation status (www.ascld-lab.org). Laboratory accreditation is a continuing process that involves a number of audits that review and evaluate management practices, personnel qualifications, technical procedures, quality assurance program and facilities.The laboratory has been accredited since 2005 by ASCLD/LAB, previously under their Legacy Program requirements. Forensic laboratory accreditation is voluntary, but is required to receive some federal funding.

Each section of the lab specializes in a different element of forensic science.

  • Breath Alcohol: The lab maintains and certifies breath-testing instruments used to detect the presence of alcohol in DUI cases. The lab also trains officers in proper use of the equipment.
  • Drug Chemistry: Drug chemistry specialists analyze samples seized in cases involving dangerous drugs and contents of clandestine labs.
  • Firearms and Toolmarks: Scientists examine weapons and ammunition along with toolmarks and fracture matches.
  • Latent Prints and Impressions: The lab identifies, preserves and compares skin impressions, including fingerprints, palm prints and footprints.
  • Pathology: The state’s medical examiner is a physician who works with county coroners and others to determine cause and manner of death. The medical examiner may also help identify bodies, document injuries and detect the presence of disease. The pathologist may provide expert testimony in court cases.
  • Serology/DNA: The Serology/DNA unit is responsible for analysis of evidence from crimes against persons and property with the purpose of identifying and individualizing biological materials found as a part of that evidence. The Serology/DNA unit also participates in CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), the FBI’s national DNA database program. CODIS blends forensic science and computer technology into an effective tool for solving crimes, by enabling federal, state, and local crime laboratories to exchange and compare DNA profiles electronically, thereby linking crimes to each other and to convicted offenders.
  • Toxicology: Toxicology staff members analyze biological samples for the presence of drugs, poisons and other toxins. Scientists often assist coroners in determining the cause of death. They also check for evidence of drug abuse by people on parole or probation. The Toxicology section has been accredited by the American Board of Forensic Toxicology since 2003.
  • Trace Evidence: Specialists examine, identify and compare the smallest samples of evidence—hairs, fibers, paint and glass, for example—to make connections between victims, suspects and a crime scene.

Each year, more and more cases are submitted to the crime lab. Typically, cases are handled in the order in which they are received. Exceptions may be made, however, particularly if forensic data may help provide leads when public safety is threatened.

As a resource for Montana law enforcement, the Montana State Crime Lab has prepared a evidence collection manual. Here, law enforcement will find information on the best practices when collecting evidence. Contact the laboratory at 406-728-4970 with any questions regarding evidence collection.

Other Resources

Contact

Phil Kinsey, Ph.D, Administrator
Forensic Science Division
Department of Justice
2679 Palmer Street
Missoula, MT 59808
Phone: (406) 728-4970
E-mail: contactdoj@mt.gov