April 14, 2020
If you’re in law enforcement, you already know the importance of a chain of custody. It can make all the difference in whether a guilty verdict is ultimately reached. If you’re the one who breaks the chain, you may be subject to penalties. But what exactly is a chain of custody, and what does it establish? Here is what you need to know.
What Is a Chain of Custody?
As the name implies, a chain of custody proves that evidence admitted to trial is the same evidence that was recovered at the scene of the crime or during its investigation. This evidence, also known as an exhibit, could be any tangible item from drugs to a laptop computer to a photo of tire tracks. Each exhibit has its own chain of custody, which shows who had physical possession of the item at every moment from the time it was recovered until the time it was presented at trial.
What Does a Chain of Custody Establish?
A chain of custody establishes what the evidence is and the timeline for its possession. It also clearly establishes anything that was done to the evidence, such as testing its chemical composition, and by whom. For example, a bag of cocaine may be seized, stored, given to an expert for testing, tested by that expert, and returned to storage before being admitted as evidence. Its chain of custody needs to prove that:
- The bag was properly stored in a tamper proof container and labeled in a way that differentiates it from all similar bags retrieved from other suspects
The bag was stored and recorded in the evidence room
That specific bag was given to an appropriate expert for testing
The testing was properly performed, and the contents were not adulterated in any way
The same bag was returned to the evidence room, and was stored and recorded properly
The bag presented at trial was the same bag that was recovered, stored, tested, and returned to the evidence room
If any of these links break down, a good defense attorney will cast doubt on the authenticity of the evidence. This can lead to specific exhibits being excluded from trial, or it could even cause the entire case to be thrown out. If you’re the officer who messed up the chain of custody, disciplinary actions could follow.
How Can I Improve My Chain of Custody?
A strong documentation system is absolutely essential to a chain of custody. Whether you are dealing with cocaine or hair samples, each piece of evidence should undergo a rigorous and standardized process of documentation from the moment it is collected until the moment it is admitted at trial.
Even the strongest documentation is not enough on its own, the quality of your evidence bags matter. They must be tamper proof, easy to label, and strong enough to withstand being passed around to relevant departments and experts without leaking.
Superior Bag offers seven different evidence bag models along with a sample packet that lets you determine which style is right for your law enforcement agency. Contact us today at 1-800-522-1236 to learn more about our top quality evidence bags or click here to purchase
Back to Blog