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. This is important because evidence that is not properly handled can be challenged by the defense, who may argue that the evidence was tampered with or contaminated and should not be admitted as evidence.
To establish chain of custody, the prosecution must show that:
- The evidence was collected from a specific location.
- The evidence was handled by a limited number of people.
- The evidence was stored in a secure location.
- The evidence was not tampered with or contaminated.
The prosecution can establish chain of custody through a variety of means, such as:
- Chain of custody logs. These logs document the movement of evidence from the time it is collected to the time it is presented in court.
- Photographs and videos. These can be used to document the condition of the evidence at the time it was collected and stored.
- Witness testimony. Witnesses can testify about how the evidence was collected, handled, and stored.
If the prosecution fails to establish chain of custody, the court may exclude the evidence from trial. This can be a significant blow to the prosecution’s case, as evidence can be crucial to proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
It is important to note that chain of custody law is not limited to criminal cases. It can also apply to civil cases, such as personal injury cases and property damage cases. In these cases, the plaintiff must prove that the evidence was collected, handled, and stored in a way that ensures its authenticity and reliability.
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 and the Court will often find tat such arguments go to weight, not admissibility.
Case Law Concerning the chain of Custody
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).
If you are in need of an Indiana expungement attorney, Indiana criminal defense attorney, or forfeiture attorney, please call me for a free consultation at 317-695-7700. I have personally defended thousands of cases, teach criminal law at the IU School of Law, am a top rated attorney, and have practiced criminal defense my entire career. Additional information about my office is available on the home page and the in the news page.
DISCLAIMER – The information contained on this website is provided for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice or as an offer to perform legal services on any subject matter. The content of this web site contains general information and may not reflect current legal developments or information. The information is not guaranteed to be correct, complete or current. We make no warranty, expressed or implied, about the accuracy or reliability of the information at this website or at any other website to which it is linked. Recipients of content from this site should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in the site without seeking appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from an attorney licensed in the recipient’s state. Nothing herein is intended to create an attorney-client relationship and shall not be construed as legal advice. This is not an offer to represent you, nor is it intended to create an attorney-client relationship.