The Importance of Chain of Custody

April 18, 2019 Natalie Dunlap

What Is Chain of Custody?

A chain of custody refers to the chronological documentation or paper trail that records the sequence of custody, control, transfer, analysis, and disposition of physical or electronic evidence. Essentially, chain of custody is designed to establish that the alleged evidence is in fact related to the alleged crime, eliminating the possibility that the evidence could have been mishandled or misattributed. Evidence must be documented down to the exact date and time of collection in order to create an unbroken chain of custody—ruling out any possibilities of tampering or mishandling. This is particularly imperative in criminal cases and is also necessary for civil litigation.

What Information Is Outlined in Chain of Custody Forms?

There are many pieces of information that can be included on chain of custody forms, and these largely depend on the type of evidence being collected—physical vs. digital evidence for example. As a general rule of thumb, The Standard Guide for Physical Evidence Labeling and Related Documentation requires the case or incident number, an item or sample number, personnel information (who collected the sample), the date collected, and a brief description of the sample to all be recorded on chain of custody forms. Forms may also include the reason for collection, relevant serial numbers, or the method of capture. It is critical that all chain of custody forms are signed with the time and date, as failure to do so could result in a broken chain of custody.

What If Chain of Custody Is Broken?

Serious legal ramifications can result if a chain of custody is broken, mainly the risk of evidence being inadmissible. From a legal standpoint, without an unbroken chain of custody, there would be no way to “prove” that police officers and other law officials have not contaminated, tampered with, or removed the evidence. As a result, vital evidence could be rendered useless, which could ultimately result in justice not being carried out.

Solutions for Maintaining Chain of Custody

Our PMI Evidence Tracker is a customizable software system that helps law enforcement and legal professionals track physical and digital evidence at all times. We provide proprietary labels so that all evidence can be identified as soon as it is found, and a unique identification number or bar code is assigned to each piece of evidence—making the retrieval process easier and more efficient than ever. Contact us today to learn more about how our software can help your department manage chain of custody!