The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Crime Lab staff work hard to process evidence for more than 1,000 cases every month. As a key member of Sacramento County’s Public Safety team, the lab and its criminalists excel in a highly technical industry, processing evidence as large as a full-sized SUV or as small as a microscopic fiber. Equally diverse are the cases, ranging from driving under the influence of alcohol to homicides for all law enforcement agencies in Sacramento County, plus the California Highway Patrol and Folsom State Prison.
The lab has achieved the honor of ISO accreditation from the American Society of Crime Lab Directors/ Laboratory Accreditation Board, the gold standard in the forensic laboratory accreditation. Making the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Crime Lab is one of the best in the western United States. It is also one of the few labs in California managed by a District Attorney.
The lab houses state-of-the-art technology with two scanning electron microscopes used to examine trace evidence such as gunshot residue. Two of the lab’s most effective tools are the only ones of their kind west of the Mississippi: the inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry instrument can match tiny particles of glass gathered at a crime scene to evidence collected from a suspect’s clothing or other locations; and the high performance liquid chromatography instrument that breaks apart tiny molecules to determine the presence of drugs such as prescription sleep medications in the blood. Due to the sensitivity of this instrument and the ability to detect sleep medications, there has been an increase in driving under the influence prosecutions.
Jill Spriggs, the Crime Lab’s Director, is proud of her staff’s accomplishments. “We have an excellent reputation in the field of forensics for our skills in trace evidence, firearms and toxicology, as well as the other forensic disciplines.”
Every criminalist in the lab is a highly-educated professional who specializes in a particular area of forensic science. The minimum requirement for a level one criminalist is a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry, physics, pharmacology, biology, microbiology, criminalistics or a closely related scientific field. Each Criminalist must also complete special coursework in Quantitative Analysis. It also takes an additional 1 to 5 years of training to learn a specialty such as comparative evidence, toxicology or DNA.
In addition to examining and analyzing evidence, criminalists testify during trials and participate in continuing education and training. Unlike the characters on TV shows like CSI, Sacramento’s criminalists rarely visit crime scenes and they never interview suspects. Another TV crime lab myth is the speed at which evidence is processed. It takes at least one week to process DNA and some evidence can take months to fully evaluate and analyze.
The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Crime Lab has 37 employees who work in a modern facility built in 1996. The lab has the highest quality service available for the recognition, collection, preservation, and interpretation of physical evidence, with the goal to present the analysis of the evidence in criminal court cases. For more information, visit the Crime Lab website.