Why Chain Of Custody Is Such An Important Consideration In Criminal Cases

Anyone arrested on criminal charges should have an attorney look over the physical evidence compiled against them carefully. This evidence will play a significant role in how judge and jury determine a verdict and sentence.

Witness statements are important, but legal scholars have proven that such words can be subjective. People forget things over time or allow their personal beliefs to influence their recollections. In contrast, concrete evidence apparently does not lie. It can seem like the objective truth.

There is a problem with physical evidence. How can the justice system be sure that what the prosecutor presents in court is exactly what the police and investigators found at the time of arrest?

Chain of Custody

Both federal and state rules of criminal procedure dictate an evidential chain of custody. These rules force authorities to keep a running list of who has had possession of evidence up until its presentation in court.

The chain also ensures that only certain persons have access to the evidence. These individuals must handle the evidence safely. A central goal is to keep it in the state found at the crime scene, if possible.


A good criminal defense attorney usually scrutinizes police custody logs heavily. They may want to bring up in court finding any unwarranted or unnecessary access to evidence. The judge may, out of fairness, refute, or remove, said evidence from the testimony.

Judges may rule the evidence inadmissible if there is any suspicion of tampering. This does not mean that the police attempted to alter things; instead, the system tries to provide each defendant a fair trial. If it appears that evidence has, for any reason, been changed, lost, dropped or broken, then the judge can find it unreliable.

What Kinds of Items Often Lead to Chain of Custody Problems

Some evidence is more difficult to keep in custody than others.

  • Fungible items are a problem for the prosecution. For example, drugs, especially those of the synthetic variation, may decompose over time. Defense attorneys may have to inform the judge and prosecution that the composition of the evidence no longer matches that of the charged drug.

  • Weapons can also fall into this category. During an investigation, multiple people may handle a device suspected of use in a crime. Any other fingerprints found on the weapon besides those listed explicitly in the chain of custody can lead to problems for the prosecution.

Contacting a Criminal Defense Attorney

The rules of procedure differ in state and federal cases. A criminal defense attorney, such as Jeffrey D. Larson, Attorney at Law, remains up-to-date on the regulations. They can best handle chain of custody issues.