In criminal cases, when the government seizes any evidence, the government must show that it properly stored the evidence. Properly storing evidence means that there was no opportunity to tamper with the evidence. Chain of custody refers to the methods the prosecution uses to preserve the evidence. In particular, the chain of custody refers to each person who had control of the evidence and how each of them secured the evidence.
If the government tries to introduce evidence that does not have the proper foundation, the court can exclude the evidence. Examples of evidence that are subject to the chain of custody requirements include:
- Drugs that are the basis for possession of controlled substances or other drug charges
- The results of any tests such as breath tests and blood tests used in a DUI case
- Items that were stolen or obtained through force or illegal means
In essence, the government must prove that the evidence it offers is what the evidence purports to be. If the evidence was tampered with or replaced, the chain of custody is broken, and the government cannot use that evidence against a defendant. Remember though, even if some evidence is suppressed, the government still may have other evidence to convict a defendant.
An example of chain of custody evidence in a drug case
If you are charged with possession of a drug, the drugs may be handled by the following people in the following ways:
- The officer who seizes the drugs from you must mark and identify the drugs so that the drugs can be traced to the original seizure
- The officer must be able to show that nobody could tamper with the drugs and state who had possession or control of the drug
- Usually, an expert examines the drugs to identify the type and amount of the drug
- The expert must then return the drugs to the government in a secure manner so that, again, the drugs can be identified and so that no tampering can occur
- The drugs need to be brought to the courtroom where the hearing or trial is being heard
If there is a break in any part of the chain, skilled defense lawyers will seek to have the evidence excluded.
At the Law Office of Perry A. Craft PLLC, our Nashville defense lawyers assert a chain of custody defense in drug cases, DUI cases, theft cases, and any case where the prosecution needs to secure physical evidence – if there’s a reason to believe the chain of custody was broken. We seek to have evidence excluded at suppression hearings and at your trial. To discuss all your defenses for any criminal charge, call us at 615-953-3808 or fill out our contact form to make an appointment.
Perry A. Craft has dedicated his life to helping people in need. He has tried, settled, or resolved numerous civil and criminal cases in State and Federal courts, and has represented teachers and administrators before school boards, administrative judges, and the state Board of Education. Learn more about Mr. Craft.