Chain of custody


Chain of custody

Chain of custody (CoC) refers to the chronological documentation or paper trail, showing the seizure, custody, control, transfer, analysis, and disposition of evidence, physical or electronic. Because evidence can be used in court to convict persons of crimes, it must be handled in a scrupulously careful manner to avoid later allegations of tampering or misconduct which can compromise the case of the prosecution toward acquittal or to overturning a guilty verdict upon appeal. The idea behind recording the chain of custody is to establish that the alleged evidence is in fact related to the alleged crime, rather than having, for example, been planted fraudulently to make someone appear guilty.

Establishing chain of custody is made of both a chronological and logical procedure, especially important when the evidence consists of fungible goods. In practice, this most often applies to illegal drugs which have been seized by law enforcement personnel. In such cases, the defendant at times disclaims any knowledge of possession of the controlled substance in question. Accordingly, the chain of custody documentation and testimony is presented by the prosecution to establish that the substance in evidence was in fact in the possession of the defendant.

An identifiable person must always have the physical custody of a piece of evidence. In practice, this means that a police officer or detective will take charge of a piece of evidence, document its collection, and hand it over to an evidence clerk for storage in a secure place. These transactions, and every succeeding transaction between the collection of the evidence and its appearance in court, should be completely documented chronologically in order to withstand legal challenges to the authenticity of the evidence. Documentation should include the conditions under which the evidence is gathered, the identity of all evidence handlers, duration of evidence custody, security conditions while handling or storing the evidence, and the manner in which evidence is transferred to subsequent custodians each time such a transfer occurs (along with the signatures of persons involved at each step).

Example

An example of chain of custody would be the recovery of a bloody knife at a murder scene:

  1. Officer Andrew collects the knife and places it into a container, then gives it to forensics technician Bill.
  2. Forensics technician Bill takes the knife to the lab and collects fingerprints and other evidence from the knife. Bill then gives the knife and all evidence gathered from the knife to evidence clerk Charlene.
  3. Charlene then stores the evidence until it is needed, documenting everyone who has accessed the original evidence (the knife, and original copies of the lifted fingerprints).

The chain of custody requires that from the moment the evidence is collected, every transfer of evidence from person to person be documented and that it be provable that nobody else could have accessed that evidence. It is best to keep the number of transfers as low as possible.

In the courtroom, if the defendant questions the chain of custody of the evidence it can be proven that the knife in the evidence room is the same knife found at the crime scene. However, if there are discrepancies and it cannot be proven who had the knife at a particular point in time, then the chain of custody is broken and the defendant can ask to have the resulting evidence declared inadmissible.

Chain of custody is also used in most chemical sampling situations to maintain the integrity of the sample by providing documentation of the control, transfer, and analysis of samples. Chain of custody is especially important in environmental work where sampling can identify the existence of contamination and can be used to identify the responsible party.

See also

External links


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • chain of custody — n. The order of places where, and the persons with whom, physical evidence was located from the time it was collected to its submission at trial. Webster s New World Law Dictionary. Susan Ellis Wild. 2000. chain of custody …   Law dictionary

  • chain of custody — In evidence, the one who offers real evidence, such as the narcotics in a trial of a drug case, must account for the custody of the evidence from the moment in which it reaches his custody until the moment in which it is offered in evidence, and… …   Black's law dictionary

  • chain of custody — In evidence, the one who offers real evidence, such as the narcotics in a trial of a drug case, must account for the custody of the evidence from the moment in which it reaches his custody until the moment in which it is offered in evidence, and… …   Black's law dictionary

  • chain of custody — noun The documentation showing the full process of acquisition, transfer, handling and disposition of physical or electronic materials …   Wiktionary

  • Fsc chain of custody — FSC chain of custodyThe FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) chain of custody (CoC) system allows the tracking of FSC certified material from the forest to the consumer. It is a method by which companies can show their commitment to the environment… …   Wikipedia

  • chain — I (nexus) noun act of coming together, act of coupling, act of joining, act of uniting, affiliation, affinity, alliance, association, attachment, attraction, bond, bond of union, bridge, conjunction, connectedness, connecting link, connecting… …   Law dictionary

  • custody — The care and control of a thing or person. The keeping, guarding, care, watch, inspection, preservation or security of a thing, carrying with it the idea of the thing being within the immediate personal care and control of the person to whose… …   Black's law dictionary

  • custody — The care and control of a thing or person. The keeping, guarding, care, watch, inspection, preservation or security of a thing, carrying with it the idea of the thing being within the immediate personal care and control of the person to whose… …   Black's law dictionary

  • chain of possession — See chain of custody …   Black's law dictionary

  • chain of possession — See chain of custody …   Black's law dictionary


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