Evidence often changes hands while in police custody. The police officer who acquired it at the crime scene is probably not the one who is in charge of storage or running forensic tests. Therefore, there must be a clear chain of custody detailing everyone who came in contact with the evidence, from when the police acquired it to its presentation in court.
Here is what you need to know about chain of custody errors and how they could affect your criminal case.
When this can happen
Various scenarios can lead to errors in the chain of custody. For example, if there are gaps where the police cannot account for the whereabouts of the evidence, it can cast doubts on its integrity and authenticity.
Errors in the chain of custody may also arise due to the following mistakes by the police
- Improperly securing a crime scene, leading to its contamination by unauthorized third parties
- Lost or misplaced evidence
- Improper storage of the evidence by law enforcement
- Failure to document the evidence – where, how and when it was acquired
Broadly speaking, if the police fail to follow proper procedures when handling or processing evidence, it could lead to errors in the chain of custody.
It could lead to evidence suppression
Errors in the chain of custody are legal grounds to file a motion to suppress. Such a motion requires the court to exclude certain evidence from the trial in the best interests of justice. When key evidence is suppressed, it can be difficult for the prosecution to prove your guilt, which is good news for you.
That said, pointing out flaws in the chain of custody is not so straightforward. It requires the necessary legal knowledge of the criminal justice system, which explains the importance of having experienced counsel in your defense.