Modern Crime Scene Processing
Max M. Houck

Crime scenes are the starting point for almost all investigations. The modern crime scene is a target-rich environment that grows richer by the day with the advancements of science and technology.

Crime scenes are the starting point for almost all investigations. The modern crime scene is a target-rich environment that grows richer by the day with the advancements of science and technology.

What was once science fiction is now science fact, and that boundary is being continuously explored and expanded. However, the classic concepts still apply, and the three Rs – recognize, recover, record – continue to be the bedrock of crime scene processing even in the digital age. Yet,howevidence is recognized, recovered, and recorded has changed significantly. These changes, including those from the last few years, can be grouped as “forward-deployed forensics,” meaning more science is being brought to bear at the scene, which provides for improved collection and storage and on-scene analysis and triage.


Evidence that goes unrecognized also goes uncollected. Extending the human senses at a crime scene typically involves physical (light) or chemical methods to visualize evidence, such as fingerprints, blood traces, or other minute or latent materials. The most prevalent approach is to use an alternate light source (ALS), which causes certain materials to fluoresce, improving their visualization. In recent years, there has been a consistent improvement in ALS devices, including the use of LEDs instead of traditional light bulbs, more discrete filters to improve detection, and reduced battery size to provide lighter weight and longer use. ALS devices now range from small, single-wavelength handheld flashlights to small portable products with 16 or more wavelength capabilities.

Portable instrumental analysis is now a reality and has the real potential to displace older, less reliable methods. For example, on-scene presumptive testing for controlled substances currently uses color-based field tests. These test kits have little to no validation testing and have been discovered to produce false positives (disproved by laboratory testing) in numerous cases. For example, in Florida, 21 percent of drug evidence submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as positive for methamphetamine did not contain that drug, and half of the samples submitted contained no illegal drugs at all. While the kits are inexpensive (a few dollars each), the resulting retesting and possible lawsuits could negate their economy; in a recent case, a man was jailed because his donut glaze was incorrectly identified as methamphetamine by a $2 test kit, and he settled with the jurisdiction for $37,500. The total costs for that $2 kit, in addition to the settlement, include time spent analyzing the seized substances, investigating the mistake, and administrative time for the officer’s reprimand, among others. New technologies like portable instruments using infrared and Raman spectroscopy can provide more accurate and reliable identifications at the scene. Although portable instruments require an upfront financial investment, their ease of use, quick analysis, nondestructive testing, detection levels, and minimal false positives and negatives make them a better alternative to color-based field tests for on-scene analysis.

Portable spectrometers using Raman energy (a complementary energy to infrared) can also now differentiate between blood from humans and blood from other animal species. Using a portable spectrometer to identify and analyze bodily fluids can increase at-scene information while reducing the cost and time of analysis. Spectroscopy is essentially nondestructive and qualifies as a confirmatory test (as opposed to presumptive). Field portable instrumentation has the potential to revolutionize crime scene analysis and processing.


Not all samples can be analyzed at the scene; some must be recovered for later testing in a laboratory. Sample collection is critical because a crime scene investigator has one chance to collect evidence and must get it right the first time; a bell cannot be unrung and the same evidence cannot be collected twice. Additionally, with the concerns about post-conviction testing , wrongful convictions, and advancing techniques, recovered evidence samples must be secured for long-term storage, up to decades in some cases.

New collection materials offer the potential for ease of collection, security from contamination, and long-term room temperature storage. One example of an innovative sample collection technology is the HemaSpot-HF collection device, which is simple to use, robust to ship, and can be stored at ambient temperatures. The device locks when it is closed, can be labeled with a unique optical code for sample identification (reduces sample switching), and is ready to store or ship within minutes of collection, which – along with similar technologies – provides a more efficient and effective crime scene sample collection and can help speed up the overall path to justice. The petal-shaped collection material holds a precise volume of blood that allows for quantitative clinical or toxicological analysis, like analyzing for drugs, or each petal can be removed to share a sample across jurisdictional or scientific platforms, as for DNA analysis. A large format device, the HemaSpot-HD, allows for large-format sample collection of evidence like saliva or other bodily fluids. New devices like these are allowing forensic scientists the organization and efficiency required for a thorough, accurate investigation.


As carpenters say, “Measure twice, cut once.” The same could be said for crime scenes except current technologies allow millions of measurements per second without having to cut even once. Laser scanners can capture scans, include high-dynamic range (HDR) imagery, in less than two minutes at distances of up to 270 meters. Resolution of the scans depends on distance, but, typically, the instruments are accurate from a few millimeters up to 100 meters. Multiple scans can be digitally stitched together to reproduce large-scale scenes, like vehicle crashes, or scaled scenes, like inside a vehicle and then a walkthrough around it. The processed scans can be shared between the field and office, creating walkthroughs that teams or task forces can review to ensure scenes are processed completely the first time.

Collecting large amounts of information at a crime scene will not help anyone if it is not properly organized. Interviews, physical evidence, record keeping, scene access, photographs, video, and so many more modalities are potential avenues to solve a case. CrimePad is one tablet-based application that collections all aspects of the scene, at any time, and in any order. The software can keep track of the access log, take notes, record evidence, collection, take camera and video images, document what techniques were used to collect evidence (like fingerprint visualization), make sketches, and link each of these items to create a relational database to better show how all the information fits together. The application allows for an unlimited number of scenes.


Increased technology at the crime scene typically means additional training for crime scene personnel. However, properly designed technology can allow for less training and more application, streamlining processes and employing checklists to ensure completeness. The science currently used at crime scenes and the enhanced methods that are coming soon mean that police, crime scene investigators, detectives, and their counterparts in the criminal justice system will need to understand more about how science works – and does not work – to produce better information and provide more transparent justice. The methodologies discussed herein are just a taste of the progress and improvements to come. Nevertheless, the basics still apply: recognize, recover, record. Technology and science can amplify and enhance these core principles, but cannot replace them.

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Spot On Sciences‘ Hemaspot product is helping the World Hepatitis Alliance (WHA) reach its goal of eliminating hepatitis B and C in the next decade by enabling the alliance’s 270 member organizations to cost-effectively diagnose hepatitis and monitor treatment in rural areas across the globe, according to Emily Hanson, Spot On’s head of business development. Founded in Austin, Texas, in 2010, Spot On Science was acquired by San Francisco-based Tribeca Companies in August 2018.

The Hemaspot line of products provides simple, integrated collection and storage of blood and bodily fluids in a secure format that minimizes the risk of contamination.

“As we learned at last week’s Liver Congress in Vienna, Austria, our product is having a huge impact in global public health policy. It has become central to holding governments accountable to their commitment to eliminate hepatitis B and C by 2030, as it provides a way to elevate patient care, open doors for researchers, support advocacy groups and provide public policy metrics,” Hanson told BioWorld MedTech.

The World Hepatitis Alliance brings together more than 270 organizations in 91 countries with the goal of eliminating hepatitis by reducing transmission and curing those infected with the viruses. While many governments and policy organizations have expressed a commitment to hepatitis eradication, they have not had the solutions that enable them to translate those commitments into actionable plans.

“With Hemaspot, there is now the availability of an affordable tool that governments can take on, which are critical to their success in reaching these goals,” Hanson noted.

Two Products

Spot On has two primary products, both of which have CE mark approval but do not yet have U.S. FDA clearance.


The HemaspotTM-HF blood collection device is a credit-card sized cartridge that contains absorbent paper and a desiccant covered with an application surface that has a small opening that allows blood to enter. After gathering three drops of blood, a patient closes the cartridge and the desiccant dries the sample. The sample can be shipped or stored safely for years. A tamper-resistant latch ensures integrity. The paper’s eight-bladed fan shape replicates eight copies of the blood sample and eliminates the need to punch out a sample from a dried blood spot card. A higher volume version is also available.

se_open_smallHemaspotTM-SE blood separation device separates blood from a finger stick into whole blood cells and serum and then stores the samples. Red blood cells, platelets and leukocytes concentrate at the center of the spiral paper form, while serum and its components dominate on the outer arm.

Four Verticals

Four key verticals dominate the company’s plans for its products:

  • Global public health / infectious disease control
  • Human identification
  • Research
  • Wellness

“Within each of these, there are so many different avenues where the product could have massive impact,” Hanson said. “We could build out a year’s worth of plans based on the tons of opportunities just in global public health and we’re just starting to dig into the forensic and non-forensic applications within human identification.”

Others see the potential for the products as well. “Even through the language barrier, people were so excited just from the image of the device on an Ipad and our videos. They could immediately connect how they could use it in their world, whether that was as an activist, physician or in a health ministry,” Hanson said.

Already, Hemaspot is used in research labs all over the world as scientists evaluate the use of the simple device to help public health ministries spot epidemics, distinguish disease strains and measure the success of treatment plans.

The device has the potential to bring customized medicine to a broad population, said Nima Nejad Shiraz, vice president of finance and operations at Tribeca and chief operating officer of Spot On Sciences.

While many patients in the U.S. today may have the resources to monitor and customize medication, “others need to do whole blood testing. That’s impossible to ship. Dried blood spot technology has been around for decades, but its utility has been limited by the availability of lab technicians and the inability to reliably dry and ship samples without contamination. It’s estimated that 50% of dried blood spot tests have to be thrown away,” Shiraz said.

“With Hemaspot, there’s the ability for patients to do it by themselves without a trained technician and then close and lock the lid to preserve the integrity of the sample.”

That could be a game changer in much of the world, Shiraz noted. “If you look at HIV within Africa, you have 36.9 million patients who are HIV positive. Of those, 9 [million] to 10 million are not aware they have the virus, and 21 million are receiving therapy. A significant percentage don’t have reasonable access to testing. They’d have to walk 10 miles, cross a river, take a bus to get tested,” he said. “With Hemaspot, a public health worker can throw a bunch in a backpack on a motorcycle in 40 degree C weather, take samples and bring them back without contamination.


Spot On is not the only company trying to solve the issues surrounding remote blood collection and shipping. Neoteryx LLC’s Mitra devices use microsampling cartridges to collect a wide range of body fluids. The U.S. FDA class I devices are available packed with a desiccant or as part of a collection kit.

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HPRNima Nejad Shiraz, VP of Finance & Operations at Tribeca Companies and COO with Spot-On Sciences, discusses the next generation of Dried Blood Spot (DBS) sample collection, and their partnering with Tribeca Companies to conduct an expansion of the company’s activities into new global markets.

Click here to listen.

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7 Myths About Dried Blood Spot (DBS)

Dried blood spot (DBS) sampling has established itself as an innovative sampling technique where wet blood is spotted onto absorbent paper or other paper materials and allowed to dry. In recent years the usage of DBS has gained increasing importance since this method shows strong advantages compared to the conventional collection and analysis of blood or plasma samples.

Let’s take a closer look at several myths about DBS to better understand the versatility and robust application of this technology.

Myth #1: Dried blood spot samples are just as potentially infectious as wet blood.

DBS specimens can be shipped by mail or other carrier with no reasonable expectations of occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious dried-blood material.

Myth #2: Dried blood spot samples are only used in New Born Screening (NBS) Tests.

DBS samples can be collected and subsequently tested for more than a hundred compounds. It is very commonly use in numerous infectious disease assays such as HIV and Hepatitis screening, viral loads and syphilis as well as genotyping. A list of various uses can be found in a CDC presentation.

Myth #3: Dried Blood Spot is a new technology that can only be used with the newest, most sensitive detection technologies.

DBS or blood spotted onto paper, was originally introduced about 100 years ago but put in to practice by the scientist, Robert Guthrie. In 1963. Dr. Guthrie originally looked at testing infants for phenylketonuria (PKU) which is caused by high levels of the amino acid, phenylalanine. The simple assay he developed was a bacterial inhibition assay, which monitored the growth of the bacteria Bacillus subtilis, which was inhibited under normal test conditions, but would grow unabated when blood containing high amounts of phenylalanine are present. Today, Dried Blood Spot techniques can be used with the most sensitive detection technologies making it extremely versatile in the lab as well as in field settings.

Myth #4: Only whole blood is used for DBS.

In addition to whole blood, other biological fluids have been successfully applied, dried and analyzed as a dried sample including plasma, serum, CSF, saliva, fecal material and urine. HemaSpot-SE separates and dries whole blood into cellular and serum portions and both can be analyzed from the same sample.

Myth #5: DBS samples have high potential for contamination during the drying process.

Blood spots applied to HemaSpot devices dry in a self-contained cartridge that protects that sample from air-borne contaminants.

Myth #6: DBS samples must be biobanked or stored in a refrigerator or freezer.

Many analytes have been recovered from DBS samples stored at ambient temperatures for years.

Myth #7: It is important to throughly allow blood spots to dry before storing and shipping them.

Blood spots applied to the HemaSpot-HF may be shipped immediately after collecting and closing the device. The blood collected on the form will dry completely within 2 hrs of closing the device and wet blood is protected from contamination or smearing while in the closed device. Only with the open cards is it important to dry the blood spots before sealing them in plastic bags with desiccant.

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Austin, TX September 25, 2017—Spot On Sciences, Inc., a medical device company that is actively developing innovative methods for collecting and storing blood samples, today announced that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has issued US Patent 9759640 covering biological sample collection and preservation using dried blood spot (DBS) technology. Spot On Sciences has exclusive rights to the patented technology and has additional devices in development.

The patent covers a method to preserve a solid biospecimen (i.e. biopsied tissue) as a dried homogenate which preserves and allows simple and rapid extraction for analysis of proteins, nucleic acids and small molecules. In contrast to FFPE (formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded), this method can significantly decrease artifacts due to cross-linking and sample degradation.

About Spot On Sciences

Spot On Sciences, Inc., located in Austin, Texas, is a medical device company that is actively developing innovative methods for collecting and preserving biological fluid samples for medical testing. The premier products, HemaSpot™-HF (whole blood) and HemaSpot™-SE (separated blood), are simple to use devices for finger stick sample collection, preservation and shipment to a laboratory at room temperature. The company has been recognized with many awards for innovation including the SXSW Accelerator, Astia Venture and the Kauffman Foundation’s Get In The Ring competitions and 2015 White House Demo Days.

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The 2017 AACC Annual Meeting held in San Diego, CA was a blast!


A record number of 21,300 attendees of primarily laboratory medicine professionals and healthcare leaders came to the meeting to explore cutting edge research and emerging Public Health topics. Besides our ownposterpresentations, the conference highlights included talks from Dr. Doudna and her breakthrough research on CRISPR technology, the novel gene editing tool that may be used to correct genetic disorders. We greatly enjoyed the panel discussion from the Qualcom Tri-corder XPrize award winners and finalist. It was great to see so many recent advancements of medical technology first hand and, of course, to present our ownresearch!


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Austin, TX August 22, 2017 –Researchers at Public Health Solutions, in collaboration with Spot On Sciences and two US-based universities, recently completed enrollment in an NIH-funded online study to conduct at-home collection of blood to quantify HIV-RNA among a sample of U.S. HIV-positive men who have sex with men (MSM). The study was designed to test the feasibility of collecting home dried blood specimens among MSM with suboptimal adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART). Non-adherence to ART is a major public health challenge, as non-adherence can impede suppression of HIV and lead to further transmission of the virus. From September 2016 to June 2017, HemaSpotTM* kits, developed by Spot On Sciences, were mailed to a sample of U.S. MSM living with HIV that had been recruited online. Participants mailed completed kits to a research laboratory for HIV-RNA quantification. Among the study sample, 75% of the participants successfully completed the HemaSpot kit and returned it to the research laboratory. Of the quantified specimens, about half had detectable viremia..


“The HemaSpot device is ideal for the collection, transport and storage of HIV samples and other infectious diseases,” said Shelley Hossenlopp, Senior Director of Sales and Business Development for Spot On Sciences. “We are proud to support this collaboration, and others like it, as detection technologies and HIV treatments make headway across the globe.”

Dr. Sabina Hirshfield, principal investigator of this federally funded study, stated that “These findings suggest that home collection of DBS, using HemaSpot, is a feasible method for reaching high-risk men who struggle with ART adherence.” Dr. Hirshfield also said, “This method could eventually be developed into a complementary system of HIV care.”

Spot On Sciences, Inc., located in San Francisco, is a medical device company that is actively developing innovative methods for collecting and preserving biological fluid samples for medical testing. The premier products, HemaSpot™-HF (whole blood) and HemaSpot™-SE (separated blood), are simple to use devices for finger stick sample collection, preservation and shipment to a laboratory at room temperature. The company has been recognized with many awards for innovation including the SXSW Accelerator, Astia Venture and the Kauffman Foundation’s Get In The Ring competitions and 2015 White House Demo Days.

*CE Mark. For USA, HemaSpot devices are currently For Research Use Only. Not For Use in Diagnostic Procedures.

About Public Health Solutions

Public Health Solutions is the country’s largest public health institute and one of New York’s leading nonprofit organizations. They improve the health of people and communities throughout New York City by integrating research, policy, capacity building, and direct service. Founded in 1957, they have led the quest for innovation, better outcomes, and reduced disparities in public health for more than 50 years.



Are you heading to San Diego this month for AACC? The annual meeting is a gathering of global leaders in clinical chemistry/molecular diagnostics and we want to connect with you. Spot On Sciences will be presenting two research posters on Aug 2nd. Dr. Jeanette R. Hill (founder and CEO) will be presenting on “Evaluation of Endogenous Amino Acids as Preanalytical controls for Blood Samples” #B450, and Dr. Rob T. Taylor will be presenting on “Using Dried Tissue Homogenates to Preserve Solid Biospecimen for Molecular Analysis” #B427. Stop by our posters to see these cutting edge technology development projects and say hi.

Best regards,

Rob T. Taylor, Ph.D.
Research Manager

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