Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Trace Evidence Definition:

Fibers, hair and other such microscopic evidence which relates to the commission of a crime.

Related Terms: Criminalist, Evidence

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2013, defined trace evidence as follows:

"... materials that could be transferred during the commission of a violent crime. These trace materials include human hair, animal hair, textile fibers and fabric, rope, feathers, soil, glass, and building materials. The physical contact between a suspect and a victim can result in the transfer of trace materials. The identification and comparison of these materials can often associate a suspect to a crime scene or with another individual."1

Trace evidence can include hair and fiber samples, gun powder residue, fingerprints, blood spatter evidence, carpet and floor samples and paint chips.

According to the California Association of Criminalists (in 2013):

"Trace evidence (is) frequently overlooked because of its microscopic size, applies microanalysis to fibers, hair, soil, paint, glass, pollen, explosives, gunshot residue, food, plastic bags, and virtually anything involved in a crime."

Offender will sometimes try to remove all trace evidence by using fire to burn the scene of the crime or the bodies.

For a real life example of trace evidence, consider the evidence in State v Lord:

"Both Tracy's clothes and the orange blanket contained trace evidence which tied Lord to the crime. Hair, washed sand, white and green paint chips, charcoal, plaster, wood chips and sawdust were all found. In all, 30 categories of trace evidence were introduced, representing even more individual pieces of evidence. These fragments of wood chips, paint and fibers were linked to 25 separate items or locations, including Tracy's body, her clothing, Kirk's workshop, and the blue pickup....

"(O)ne of the detectives 844*844 happened to notice wood chips and sand at the workshop that were similar to the trace evidence found on Tracy's clothing....

"... hair, fibers, metal fragments, paint chips, wood chips, charcoal, and plaster were analyzed. The blood was typed using electrophoresis. The presence of seminal fluid was detected using an acid phosphatase test. Hair and fiber comparisons were done with a comparison microscope, which consists of two microscopes connected by an optical bridge with a single set of eyepieces. Paint chips and metal fragments were tested with infrared spectroscopy, x-ray fluorescent spectroscopy, epi-illumination microscopy and a microspectrophotometer."


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