U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Firearms Examiner Training

Forensic LIMS

Home  |  Glossary  |  Resources  |  Help  |  Contact Us  |  Course Map

Forensic LIMS

Evidence-routing possibilities
Evidence-routing possibilities
Image courtesy of STARLIMS Corporation (see reuse policy).

Initially, LIMS software was developed for research and commercial laboratories where the samples analyzed were standalone items completely unrelated to any other items under examination.

In criminal investigations, physical evidence is more often viewed collectively. This may involve multiple reports from various disciplines requiring differing timelines and sequencing of examinations.

The implementation of LIMS in forensic laboratories necessitated the development of enhanced features to accommodate the complexity of forensic analyses, specifically:

  • Examination results may indicate further examinations and analyses (within same discipline or in a different discipline).
  • Results may indicate additional requested examinations are unnecessary.
  • Some evidence can be examined only after the arrival of additional evidence items.

Input Information

For management purposes, LIMS inputs are normally customized to the expressed or perceived needs of a given forensic laboratory.

Generally the inputs can include basic items, such as these:

  • Laboratory file/case/submission number
  • Date evidence received
  • Submitting agency
  • Submitting agency investigative file number
  • Evidence listing and tracking data by item, type, and quantity
  • Type(s) of examination(s) requested
  • Examiner(s) assigned to an evidence submission or a particular examination
  • Chain-of-custody information
  • Bar coding of evidence items
  • Additional examinations (in series or concurrently) required as a result of trace evidence found
  • Estimated date for completion
  • Date of report(s)
  • Report contents
  • Quality assurance information

In addition, many forensic laboratories might include customized management and administrative data such as:

  • Case index reflecting the volume and complexity of the evidence submission based on a number of variables, including:
    • Number of items submitted.
    • Number of disciplines involved.
    • Probable number of examinations required.
    • Number of interrelated previous evidence submissions.
  • Case prioritization system.
  • Case assignment criteria to assist managers in balancing and maintaining an equitable caseload. All cases are not created equal and a single massive evidence submission can easily outweigh twenty or thirty straightforward submissions.

    Some criteria to consider when assigning cases:
    • Examiners experience level and training versus the volume and complexity of a new evidence submission
    • Each examiners areas of qualification
    • Priority assigned to a new case
    • Previous submissions in the same or related cases

Output Information

First and foremost, the management and analysis of the current caseload and case production is the responsibility of the section supervisor. The LIMS is simply a tool to assist in this process.

LIMS goals:

  • Immediately assess the status and progress of a given evidence submission.
  • Produce a quick snapshot of the overall current caseload at any time.

Information examples may include

  • types and numbers of current cases,
  • cases completed on a weekly, monthly, or year-to-date basis,
  • number and type of examinations completed,
  • cases not meeting agency guidelines by unit or by examiner,
  • current status and cumulative statistics for each area by subdiscipline,
  • current status and cumulative statistics by individual examiner.

System Developments

Remote case management
Remote case management
Image courtesy of STARLIMS Corporation (see reuse policy).

Some ongoing developments becoming more widely adopted in forensic LIMS systems include

  • preformatted laboratory notes and reports,
  • digital imaging, video, and audio clips,
  • systems that prompt the user to check for possible additional comparisons.

These features may assist the examiner, but should not become a substitute for critical thinking.

Back Forward