chain of custody


Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Financial, Acronyms, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
Related to chain of custody: Chain of evidence

Chain of Custody

The movement and location of physical evidence from the time it is obtained until the time it is presented in court.

Judges in bench trials and jurors in jury trials are obligated to decide cases on the evidence that is presented to them in court. Neither judges nor jurors may conduct their own investigations into the underlying facts of a given case. In fact, state and federal court rules prohibit judges and jurors from being swayed by, or even taking into consideration, extrajudicial evidence—that is, evidence that is not properly admitted into the record pursuant to the rules of evidence—in rendering their decisions.

Similarly, parties to civil and criminal litigation depend on judges and juries to impartially weigh the evidence, and only the evidence, that is properly admitted into the record. Every day, across the United States, litigants stake their reputations, livelihoods, bank accounts, homes, Personal Property, and freedom on the premise that the outcome to their judicial proceedings will be one that is reached fairly and justly, according to the evidence.

Court-rendered judgments and jury verdicts that are based on tainted, unreliable, or compromised evidence would undermine the integrity of the entire legal system if such outcomes became commonplace. One way in which the law tries to ensure the integrity of evidence is by requiring proof of the chain of custody by the party who is seeking to introduce a particular piece of evidence.

Proof of a chain of custody is required when the evidence that is sought to be introduced at trial is not unique or where the relevance of the evidence depends on its analysis after seizure. A proper chain of custody requires three types of testimony: (1) testimony that a piece of evidence is what it purports to be (for example, a litigant's blood sample); (2) testimony of continuous possession by each individual who has had possession of the evidence from the time it is seized until the time it is presented in court; and (3) testimony by each person who has had possession that the particular piece of evidence remained in substantially the same condition from the moment one person took possession until the moment that person released the evidence into the custody of another (for example, testimony that the evidence was stored in a secure location where no one but the person in custody had access to it).

Proving chain of custody is necessary to "lay a foundation" for the evidence in question, by showing the absence of alteration, substitution, or change of condition. Specifically, foundation testimony for tangible evidence requires that exhibits be identified as being in substantially the same condition as they were at the time the evidence was seized, and that the exhibit has remained in that condition through an unbroken chain of custody. For example, suppose that in a prosecution for possession of illegal narcotics, police sergeant A recovers drugs from the defendant; A gives police officer B the drugs; B then gives the drugs to police scientist C, who conducts an analysis of the drugs; C gives the drugs to police detective D, who brings the drugs to court. The testimony of A, B, C, and D constitute a "chain of custody" for the drugs, and the prosecution would need to offer testimony by each person in the chain to establish both the condition and identification of the evidence, unless the defendant stipulated as to the chain of custody in order to save time.

Chain of custody need not be demonstrated for every piece of tangible evidence that is accepted into the trial court's record. Physical evidence that is readily identifiable by the witness might not need to be supported by chain-of-custody proof. For example, no chain-of-custody foundation is required for items that are imprinted with a serial number or inscribed with initials by an officer who collected the evidence. Similarly, items that are inherently distinctive or memorable (for example, a holdup note written in purple crayon) might be sufficiently unique and identifiable that they establish the integrity of the evidence.

Whether the requisite foundation has been laid to establish chain of custody for an exhibit is a matter of discretion on the part of the trial judge. Possibilities of misidentification and adulteration must be eliminated, not absolutely, but as a matter of reasonable probability. Where there is sufficient testimony that the evidence is what it purports to be, and that testimony is offered by each responsible person in the chain of custody, discrepancies as to accuracy or reliability of testimony regarding the chain of custody go to the weight of the evidence and not to its admissibility, meaning that the evidence would be admitted into the record for the judge or jury to evaluate in light of any conflicting testimony that the chain of custody somehow had been compromised. While the party who offers the evidence has the burden of demonstrating the chain of custody, the party against whom the evidence is offered must timely object to the evidence when it is first introduced at trial, or the party will waive any objections as to its integrity based on a compromised chain of custody.

Further readings

Giannelli, Paul. 1996. "Chain of Custody." Criminal Law Bulletin 32.

–——. 1983. "Chain of Custody and the Handling of Real Evidence." American Criminal Law Review 20.

chain of custody

noun complete administration, custodianship, guardianship, preservation, preservation from harm, preservation from injury, proper accounting, proper administration, proper archiving, proper care, proper cataloguing, proper documentation, proper recorddng, proper records and management, proper registration, protection, safe case and control, safeguard, safekeeping, stewardship, trusteeship
Associated concepts: appropriation, care and possession, search and seizure
Mentioned in ?
References in periodicals archive ?
Drill down into the chain of custody for any release and any task to understand and prove exactly what happened
Currently the research on chain of custody is still very limited, research and documents that have been published by organizations such as IOCE, SWGDE, DRWS are generally only written about general aspects of handling digital evidence [6].
However, forestry- and agricultural-based products like toilet paper and hand towels offer a clearer look at the chain of custody. "It's easier to track where raw materials are grown and where they are processed into final products," explains Monaco.
Erik Hoffer, vice president of CSA, says someone must design a logistical plan in order to create that chain of custody and have as few handoffs as possible.
Smurfit Kappa, one of the world's largest integrated manufacturers of paper-based packaging products with operations in Europe and the Americas, is proud to announce that all relevant packaging operations in Europe are now Chain of Custody certified.
We've extended our industry-leading sustainability approach to our recently launched Tork premium products in North America by initially ensuring the fresh fiber comes from only non-controversial sources from suppliers with Chain of Custody certification.
* An electronic chain of custody record, reducing risk associated with manual documentation error and item contamination.
Birmingham Joinery has been successfully assessed to achieve 'Chain Of Custody' on its timber usage within the business.
The new system also includes Nexsan's AutoMAID technology to reduce power consumption in the hosted data centre, as well as digital fingerprinting technology that tracks the chain of custody for each file.
Last December, Viciunai earned MSC chain of custody certification for its Estonian processing plant, Paljassaare Kalatoostus (PKT).
AXS-One (axs-one.com) has released Version 3.7 of its Compliance Platform, which, the company says, is the first archiving solution to provide comprehensive, integrated functionality to ensure that records pertaining to a specific case or cases are preserved and managed in line with litigation hold orders and that an auditable chain of custody supports testimony requirements.
Three case studies show how new systems and tools are helping strengthen the food supply's "chain of custody" right back to the lettuce field and pasture