– When an exhibit may have changed hands several times between seizure and admission at trial, the State must show a Chain of Custody in order to have the evidence admitted.

– For a case involving drugs, or similar contraband, the evidence has almost always been placed in the evidence room and probably tested by a lab tech. Generally, prior to placing the evidence into the property room, the officer will write his name, date, police report number, etc… on the evidence bag. The prosecutor should ask how the officer is certain that this evidence is the same evidence that was seized. The officer will then state “I recognize my signature on the bag, the date, the defendant’s name, etc..” This will generally be enough to have the evidence admitted. It is very hard to keep evidence out based on chain of custody arguments.  

Case Law

– The purpose of the rule is to prevent tampering, loss, or mistake with respect to an exhibit. The dangers posed by tampering, loss or mistake are that (1) similar or fungible items will be confused or commingled, and (2) exhibits will be altered in some manner relevant to and destructive of their evidentiary purpose and value. Graham v. State 255 N.E.2d 652 (Ind. 1970).

– An exhibit is admissible if the evidence regarding its chain of custody strongly suggests the exact whereabouts of the evidence at all times. In substantiating a chain of custody, the State must give reasonable assurances that the property passed through various hands in an undisturbed condition. The State need not establish a perfect chain of custody whereby any gaps go to the weight of the evidence and not to admissibility. Culver v. State, 727 N.E.2d 1062 (Ind. 2000).

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