Chain of custody is an important legal concept that involves who has had access to evidence as it went through the process of being entered as an exhibit. A broken chain of custody could mean that evidence has been compromised and can no longer be used against. Read on to learn more about chain of custody, how it could affect your case, and how a criminal defense attorney can help you win your case.
The Definition of Exhibits
First, consider what exhibits are: They are tangible objects that are relevant to a criminal case. In a shoplifting case, the exhibits would include the items that were allegedly stolen. In a drug crime case, an exhibit might be the drugs that were allegedly in the defendant’s possession. A burglary case may include an exhibit with a photograph of the broken window, and in a DUI case, exhibits would likely include a printout of the breathalyzer results.
The Definition of Chain of Custody
In order for the prosecution to prove that the exhibits being entered are what they say they are – for example, that the drugs they are entering are the actual drugs used in the drug crime – they must be able to prove who was in possession of the exhibit at all times between the seizure and the trial. This is what’s referred to as a chain of custody – and it is essential especially in cases where the evidence has been altered before trial.
Proving a Break in the Chain of Custody Can Result in Dismissed Charges
In most cases, prosecutors need evidence that was gathered by police officers, and so it is the prosecutor who ends up with the need to establish a chain of custody. A common strategy of the defense is show that the prosecutor’s chain of custody is not sufficient. When we can do this, the judge may rule that the evidence cannot be offered as an exhibit, and therefore the prosecution does not have enough evidence to allow the case to go on.
An Example of a Chain of Custody
Imagine a drug case in which the prosecutor has a bag of cocaine that they say the defendant had. The prosecutor must be able to show that when the police seized the bag they marked it in a way that allows them to distinguish it from similar items, that the police stored the bag in a place and way that prevented tampering, a qualified expert must be called to testify to what is in the packet, the prosecutor must prove that this expert was given the bag and tested the bag that the officer initially found, that the expert correctly tested the bag, and that packet tested the same bag that the police have then brought to the trial.
If a defense attorney can prove that just one of these steps is false or suspect, the entire case can come to an end. Is this a possibility or your case? Find out now by contacting Law Office of Michael L. Fell at (949) 585-9055 for a free legal consultation.