Aberrations in a chain of custody can significantly impact the outcome of a case. The first part of understanding potential inconsistencies begins with a firm understanding of what the actual (legally recognized) evidence of the case is. Physical evidence is any object associated with an investigation that tends to prove or disprove a point regarding a crime, victim, or perpetrator. When evidence is moveable (i.e., can be collected and stored), the chain of custody is a linear chronicle relating to the evidence’s possession, handling, and analysis from the moment of collection until its appearance in court. It is a critical part of the legal process, as it helps ensure the evidence is authentic and has not been tampered with intentionally, accidentally, or otherwise.
To properly collect and preserve evidence, it is obvious that it must be obtained legally and then:
- Described in detail;
- Identified accurately;
- Packaged, as per protocols, for identification, storage, or shipment to the laboratory;
- Established and carefully maintained within an unbroken chain of custody.
Chain of custody disputes can occur when there is a perceived or actual “break in the chain,” meaning there is no clear record of, or ambiguity exists surrounding, who possessed the evidence at a particular time. This can happen for various reasons, such as when evidence is lost, misplaced, or damaged. Several factors can figure into or exacerbate these disputes. For example:
- Human error: People involved in evidence handling may be sloppy or make mistakes, such as failing to accurately document or losing track of the evidence;
- Inadequate procedures: If the procedures for handling evidence are not entirely understood or precisely followed;
- Contamination: If evidence is not correctly isolated, stored, or handled.
At Mind Proxy, one of our unique services includes successfully examining or plumbing the integrity energetics attached to the linear and multi-layered timeline of a chain of custody, looking for disruptions or voids that may indicate areas needing to be questioned or probed during related testimony or cross-examination.
Ultimately, if the defense can successfully argue that the chain of custody has been broken, some or all evidence may be excluded from the trial, which could, in the end, lead to an acquittal.