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Donnell R. Christian
Boca Raton London New York Washington, D.C.
© 2004 by CRC Press LLC
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Christian, Donnell R.
Forensic investigation of clandestine laboratories / Donnell R. Christian.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-8493-1227-2 (alk. paper)
1. Forensic sciences. 2. Chemical laboratories. I. Title.
HV8073.C53 2003
363.23 — dc21
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International Standard Book Number 0-8493-1227-2
Library of Congress Card Number 2003043976
Printed in the United States of America 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
Printed on acid-free paper
The Author
Donnell R. Christian, Jr.
spent 15 years with the Arizona Department of
Public Safety Crime Laboratory specializing in forensic chemistry and trace
analysis, with emphasis in the clandestine manufacture of controlled sub-
stances (i.e., drugs and explosives). He responded to hundreds of clandestine
lab scenes, examined thousands of exhibits, and provided untold hours of
testimony. He published articles on the analysis and the clandestine manu-
facture of controlled substances. And, he developed training programs for
investigators, laboratory examiners, and attorneys involved in the investiga-
tion, examination, and prosecution of clandestine labs.
Currently, the author is the forensic science development coordinator for
the United States Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigative
Training Assistance Program (ICITAP). With ICITAP, he assisted in estab-
lishing forensic science programs in the developing democracies of Armenia,
Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Sene-
gal, and Uzbekistan. He served as president and chairman of the board of
directors for the Southwestern Association of Forensic Scientists (SWAFS).
He is a 1981 graduate of Northern Arizona University.
The author was awarded the American Academy of Forensic Sciences’
Outstanding Young Scientist Award for the southwestern U.S. in 1985. He
can be contacted through his Web site at:
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Drugs of abuse in the United States have traditionally come from a variety
of foreign sources. Heroin and cocaine are produced in foreign countries. A
vast amount of marijuana is cultivated and smuggled in from sources outside
the United States. However, law enforcement authorities must look inward
to identify the source of clandestinely produced synthetic drugs that are
increasing in popularity.
Clandestinely produced drugs of abuse are not the only controlled sub-
stances affecting the public order. The clandestine production of explosives
and explosive mixtures placed into destructive devices and used with criminal
intent has greatly impacted the feelings of safety experienced by law-abiding
The manufacturing of controlled substances in clandestine labs is an ever-
increasing problem within the United States. Identifying and shutting down
these operations has the greatest impact in stemming the flow of contraband
substances. The effect of eliminating the ultimate source of the controlled
substance being manufactured reaches far beyond jailing individuals arrested
at the site. Everyone who would potentially have come in contact with the
finished product, from the mid-level distributors to the end users, feels the
ramifications of putting the manufacturer out of business.
The investigation of clandestine labs is one of the most challenging of
law enforcement. It is a roller-coaster ride of activity that requires every tool
at its disposal. Traditional investigative techniques are used to develop infor-
mation concerning the location of the clandestine lab and the identity of the
operator. Forensic experts are used to corroborate information by establish-
ing the identity of the final products as well as the manufacturing methods
used to produce them.
No other law enforcement activity relies on forensic experts as heavily as
does the investigation of clandestine labs. The forensic expert’s involvement
commences with the drafting of the affidavit used to obtain the search war-
rant. His or her expertise is imperative to effectively process the crime scene.
Experts analyze the samples from the crime scene in a forensic laboratory.
Finally, they render opinions in a written report or in courtroom testimony.
Occasionally, the forensic expert may be called upon further to testify on
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auxiliary issues concerning the clandestine lab investigation that occur even
after the criminal case has been adjudicated.
A team effort is necessary for identifying, investigating, and prosecuting
a clandestine lab. It is a collaboration of the efforts of law enforcement,
forensic experts, scientists, and criminal prosecutors to present a case that
definitively demonstrates how a group of items with legitimate uses is being
used to manufacture an illegal controlled substance.
Forensic Investigation of
Clandestine Laboratories
was written to provide these groups with the general
information needed to understand how the different pieces of the clandestine
lab puzzle fit together.
Individuals outside of law enforcement can benefit from the information
in the first three chapters of this book. Emergency responders, such as police
patrol officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and rep-
resentatives from certain social service agencies, routinely encounter clandes-
tine labs. Landlords, storage locker managers, and the public at large stumble
upon these operations without realizing it. The knowledge gained from read-
ing this text will allow these groups to be able to recognize a potentially
dangerous situation so they can report it to the appropriate authorities.
The goal is to provide anyone involved in the investigation or prosecution
of clandestine lab activity the information to guide him or her through the
process of establishing the existence of a clandestine lab beyond a reasonable
doubt. Just by reading this book, the reader will not be an expert in the
clandestine manufacture of controlled substances. That can only be accom-
plished through training and experience.
The information in this book will provide an overview of clandestine
labs. This will be accomplished by dividing the process into five sections that
correspond to the various phases of investigation and prosecution. Described
in the first section is how to recognize clandestine labs and the physical
characteristics they have in common. In the second section, processing the
site of a clandestine lab will be reviewed. Covered in the third section are the
analytical techniques that can be used in the laboratory to analyze evidence
from a clandestine laboratory. Presented in the fourth section are the opinions
that can be rendered from the physical evidence. In the fifth and final section,
presenting the evidence in court is covered.
Recognition of clandestine lab activity is the first step in the process. In
Chapters 1 through 3, a clandestine lab is described, along with the common
elements to expect. A profile of a clandestine lab operator will be presented.
And, chemical and equipment requirements, as well as the basic manufac-
turing techniques utilized, will be identified. In this section, the commonly
held, yet faulty, notion that the manufacture of controlled substances requires
higher education, sophisticated equipment, and exotic chemicals will be dis-
pelled. The knowledge gleaned from this section should enable an individual
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