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The Importance of Chain of Custody for Legal Proceedings

November 14, 2017

The Importance of Chain of Custody for Legal Proceedings

Evidence is crucial to proving court cases in many types of legal proceedings. This evidence may include DNA samples, photographs, and documents that corroborate testimony or disprove an argument. To keep track of evidence at all times, a chain of custody must be established to rule out the possibility of mishandling or tampering.

This article will describe the importance of chain of custody in legal proceedings and provide tips on how to make a chain of custody more secure.

Chain of Custody Definition

In a legal context, the chain of custody definition involves the order that a piece of evidence must be handled while investigating a case. It is a chronological paper trail that documents who collected, handled, analyzed, or otherwise controlled pieces of evidence during an investigation. In order to uphold the standards and requirements of the law, it is necessary that chain of custody is an unbroken trail without gaps or discrepancies.

What Is Included on a Chain of Custody Form

There are many pieces of information that may be included in a chain of custody form, depending on the evidence collected and the nature of the case. For example, standard details to include are the date and time of collection, name of the investigator, and the location of collection. The chain of custody form may also include the reason for collection, relevant serial numbers, a physical description of the collected item, and method of capture. Chain of custody forms should also include signatures of individuals who were in possession of the evidence and the dates of transfer.

It may be possible to find sample chain of custody forms online or within internal office records to create a similar chain of custody form after for a new case.

What Happens If Chain of Custody is Broken

The biggest risk of breaking chain of custody is holding evidence that is inadmissible in court. If the chain of custody is broken, vital evidence could be deemed legally worthless.

This often happens if the chain of custody form or evidence bag is mislabeled, if the transfer takes an unreasonable amount of time, or if the evidence falls into the wrong hands. For example, much of the controversy surrounding the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the 1990s was due to improper chain of custody and evidence handling. Sloppy chain of custody work can mean losing a client’s case and failing to serve justice.

Tips for Ensuring the Chain of Custody is Secure

Not only is it very important to document the facts and details correctly on the chain of custody form, but also to preserve evidence in tamper-proof bags. Superior Bag provides secure and tamper-evident evidence bags that have space to write important case details, such as the case number, victim information, and location of the crime scene.

Additionally, modern software systems can help law enforcement and legal professionals track physical and digital evidence at all times. It is also recommended to label all evidence as soon as it is found, have a witness for everything to increase credibility, and assign a unique identification number or bar code to each piece of evidence. Legal professionals may also want to take photos of physical evidence during various stages of the chain of custody and take screenshots of digital evidence collected.

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