Eye for Evidence: Chain of Custody/Evidence Documentation

March 1, 2021

With evidence comes the all important chain of custody. This one piece of information can hold a huge impact on a case as well as the outcome or importance of the case.

Chain of custody is part of the process of handling evidence in a case to ensure that each step is taken properly and documented with as much detail as possible. This way when you get to court there are no “holes” in your story whatsoever. It encompasses documentation, signatures of everyone who came into contact with it, the time and the date.

So many times it is very easy (and I have been there and have had to remind myself too) to skip a step or two when it comes to handling and documenting evidence. Part of the chain of custody includes sealing the evidence properly, initialing it and dating it. Also, all of those (tedious) fields on evidence bags that require you to fill out everything but your blood type, are crucial. It may seem like a pain in the you-know-what but missing even one of these steps could jeopardize your case.

I used to get bent out of shape when the crime lab would make me fill out every single little line about the evidence I was submitting for analysis. When you have 15 items and you have been working a murder case for three days straight, the last thing you want to do is fill out every line on that lab receipt. However, if you don’t it could bite you later. For example, I now work in private investigation and handle a lot of cases after the fact-meaning everything is done now it’s time for court. I have seen so many cases with glaring mistakes that maybe in the past I wouldn’t have really thought about. When it comes to court and the defense, you need to be able to explain everything you did clearly so there is no question. “Why did you turn in the evidence a month after it was collected?” “I didn’t remember the date and made something up” won’t cut it.

This entire blog is to give guidance regarding the little things in law enforcement that may seem trivial in the moment but I am telling you it matters. Fill out the evidence bag properly-everyone who handled that evidence should have their name on that bag. Seal evidence properly so a question of broken seals cannot happen. Fill out that lab receipt to the best of your ability and take pride in your work even if it is the last task you want to do in that moment. When you have an air tight case later you will be glad you did.  

About the Author

Hilary Rodela

Hilary Rodela is currently a Surveillance Officer, a former Private Investigator, a former Crime Scene Investigator, and Evidence Technician. She worked for the Ruidoso (NM) Police Department as well as the Lubbock (TX) Police Department. She has written for several public safety publications and has extensive law enforcement and forensic training and is pursuing forensic expertise in various disciplines. Hilary is a freelance public safety writer and curriculum developer for the National Investigative Training Academy.

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