Chain of Custody & Preservation of Evidence

It does not matter the reputation you have earned for your high integrity and honesty, you will always be open to allegations of civil or criminal liability. The first type of evidence and usually the most obvious is physical evidence. Evidence can be anything from tangible objects such as cartridge cases and firearms to latent fingerprints and DNA. Evidence collection or recovery step in crime scene processing is the methods, techniques, and procedures used in retrieving evidence. Patience and care are very important at the crime scene. The criminalist should take the proper time and care in processing the scene. The work is tedious and time consuming.

It the criminalist responsibility to guarantee the integrity of the unbroken chain of custody from the very moment an item of evidence is found until it reaches its final destination at the evidence locker or the laboratory and then again when them item goes from one of those places to the courtroom. “No evidence can be introduced without a human’s testimony to make it part of trial.

However, anyone who has no official business with an item of evidence should never handle it, or else the chain is broken. Once the chain has been broken, the integrity of the evidence will be in jeopardy (pp. 13).” On the card you will have written the case number, date and location of crime, time of discovery, location where you found the blood drop and that you found it.

According to Saferstein, R. (2011), “Latent evidence is evidence at a crime scene that cannot be seen with the eyes. Examples might be a blood stain that was bleached out, or semen stains that can't be seen without special lighting, or a fingerprint on an on even surface, such as a tree (pp. 400).” Saferstein, R. (2011), also argues that visible evidence are made when an object touches a surface after the ridges have been in contact with a colored material such as blood, paint grease, or ink, (pp. 400, para. 1).

According to Saferstein, R. (2011), the necessity for proper procedures to uphold evidence findings goes back to the property collection of the evidence; the chain of custody must be established whenever evidence is presented in court as exhibit. Adherence to standard procedures in recording the location of evidence, marking it for identification and properly completing evidence submission forms for laboratory analysis is the best guarantee that the evidence will withstand inquiries of what happened to it from the time of its findings to its presentation in court.

This means that every person who has handled or examined the evidence must be accounted for. Failure to substantiate the evidence’s chain of custody may lead to serious question regarding the authenticity and integrity of the evidence and examination of it.

The case I choose to study was the JonBenet Ramsey case. The significant of the evidence in this case was very important. Accoriding to Lotter, K. (2009, January 1), “the police in Boulder, Colorado, allowed extensive contamination of the crime scene. Police first thought JonBenet had been kidnapped because of a ransom note found by her mother. For this reason, the police did not search the house until seven hours after the family called 911. The first-responding police officer was investigating the report of the kidnapping. The officer did not think to open the basement door, and so did not discover the murdered body of the girl Lotter, K. (2009, January).”

Lotter, K. (2009), also stated “the police blocked off JonBenet’s bedroom with yellow and black crime-scene tape to preserve evidence her kidnapper may have left behind. But they did not seal off the rest of the house, which was also part of the crime scene. Then the victim’s father, John Ramsey, discovered his daughter’s body in the basement of the home. He covered her body with a blanket and carried her to the living room. In doing so, he contaminated the crime scene and may have disturbed evidence. That evidence might have identified the killer (Lotter, K. 2009).”

One friend even helped clean the kitchen, wiping down the counters with a spray cleaner possibly wiping away evidence. Many hours passed before police blocked off the basement room. A pathologist did not examine the body until more than 18 hours after the crime took place (Bardsley, M., & Bellamy, P. n.d.).

The type of evidence that was found in the JonBenet Ramsey case was both latent and visible. DNA traces were found on the child's body and clothing, and footprints were analyzed in the basement. In addition, a ransom note was found on the stairs by the mother Patricia Ramsey. Fibers from blankets, carpet, clothing, bedding, car interiors and other materials can be identified and traced by the forensic team.

The different between the latent and visible evidence are as follows According to Saferstein, R. (2011), “Latent evidence is evidence at a crime scene that cannot be seen with the eyes. Examples might be a blood stain that was bleached out, or semen stains that can't be seen without special lighting, or a fingerprint on an on even surface, such as a tree (pp. 400).” Saferstein, R. (2011), also argues that visible evidence are made when an object touches a surface after the ridges have been in contact with a colored material such as blood, paint grease, or ink, (pp. 400, para. 1).

I do not believe that there was a secure chain of custody due to the fact the crime scene had already been contaminated. However, once the evidence was collected the evidence was then properly secured and a chain of custody had been established. According to Booker, R. “the chain of custody is the chronological documentation, showing the seizure, custody, control, transfer, analysis, and disposition of evidence, physical or electronic.

Because evidence can be used in court to convict persons of crimes, it must be handled in a scrupulously careful manner to avoid later allegations of tampering or misconduct which can compromise the case of the prosecution toward acquittal or to overturning a guilty verdict upon appeal. The idea behind recording the chain of custody is to establish that the alleged evidence is in fact related to the alleged crime, rather than having, for example, been planted fraudulently to make someone appear guilty (Booker, R. n.d.).”

If a contamination occurred, it may be necessary to involve those who handled the samples, which is why the chain of custody is crucial in all samples of evidence. DNA samples can be obtained from the tiniest evidence; therefore, the chain of custody becomes a vital piece of information in a court of law. There is a lesser chance of contamination with fewer handlers and a shorter chain of custody. If by chance that there was a contamination, it can be traced to a specific point in the chain of custody.

In a laboratory, the chain of custody requires; where the evidence was kept, who had access, and who had possession of the evidence and when to be documented. The handling of the evidence is a consistent method of documentation. When evidence is transferred from one person to the next, the chain of custody will reflect all the pertinent information of the transfers. All personnel involved must complete the following chain of custody when transferring samples (CPOLS, 2009):

  • The name of the person from whom the evidence was obtained;
  • Date and time of possession of the evidence;
  • What protective steps were administered ensure that the evidence was not altered or contaminated;
  • If transferred again, the date and time of transfer and the name person receiving the transfer.

The level of importance in protecting evidence is extremely high, because evidence, in general, is fragile and the slightest failure in care could destroy the sample. Another reason for protecting evidence is because if the evidence is not in the same condition as it was when it was obtained, the credibility of the evidence diminishes and it could be dismissed from a court case (Chain of custody and DNA laboratory. n.d.).”

The Chain of Custody Policy should follow the guidelines as stated below:

  1. “Secure and preserve the crime scene. Before any evidence can be collected, the scene must be secured from further contamination. Establish a crime scene perimeter and allow only necessary personnel to enter. Photograph the scene before evidence is collected.
  2. Put on gloves and other protective clothing, if needed, to make sure you don't contaminate the scene, then conduct a systematic search of the area. Collect evidence that is susceptible to the elements first. Hair, for example, can be blown away by the wind. Blood, seminal fluid or other liquid evidence also can be lost if not collected quickly.
  3. Use cotton swabs or gauze to gather blood evidence that has not dried. Blood and seminal fluid should be allowed to dry completely once collected, then quickly refrigerated. Items containing blood and seminal fluids should be transported in paper bags not plastic to keep moisture and bacteria from forming. Blood that has dried can be collected as is by taking the entire surface on which it dried or cutting out a portion of the surface.
  4. Collect hair, fibers and thread using tweezers. Each piece of evidence should then be placed individually in a sealed collection bag or container.
  5. Dust for fingerprints. Special powder is used that adheres to the oil found on human fingers. Once a print is detected it can be "lifted" using a special tape. The tape is then placed on a glass slide, marked and transported in a sealed plastic evidence bag.
  6. Pick up larger pieces of evidence, such as a firearm or clothing, while wearing plastic gloves so as not to contaminate the evidence. Place each piece in a separate marked bag or box
  7. Appropriately collect and package evidence to maximize evidence integrity.
  8. The following information will be indicated on all evidence collected: case number, date and time of crime, time of discovery, location where found, person who collected evidence and a signature of whom found evidence.
  9. Maintain evidence log. (Booker, R. n.d.).”

The officer in charger of the crime scene grants the permission to handle evidence. A procedure should be developed to insure that all persons who are responsible for keeping or handling evidence can be easily traced. Evidence should be handled by as few persons as possible. Tracking evidence from the time collected to the time it is released is referred to as the chain-of-custody. Chain of Custody and Property Release Form has been developed for tracking physical evidence collected at crime scenes.

The Chain of Custody and Property Release Form are divided into three parts: identification, list of property and chain-of-custody. The identification portion contains the date, time and location of the event. A case number should be entered in the appropriate block. If known, the decedent's name and address should be entered in the appropriate blocks. In noting the location, the crime scene investigator should be exact in describing the location. If there is insufficient room in the location block, then the information should be written on the back of the form or on a continuation sheet.

The list of property portion must be completed carefully. Each item of property or evidence seized must be recorded. When describing the property be sure to include a description of the item or material and to note any markings placed on the property. For example, when a spent shell casing is found at the scene of a homicide, suicide, or unknown shooting; the collector/finder's initials are normally etched inside the shell casing. This information should be noted in item description section.

The chain-of-custody portion must be maintained at all times. Accountability for the item or material must be maintained from the time it is seized until it is released by proper authority. Proper authority may range from the courts in a criminal or civil case to the coroner in a routine case involving a natural or accidental death. Law enforcement agencies will use their own chain-of-custody and property release forms. Every time the item(s) seized are moved, or handled by different individuals, the name(s) and the time and date must be noted. This accountability begins with the person taking or finding the item being seized.

In conclusion, a final survey was conducted of all aspects of the search. A discussion of the search with all personnel was conducted. Ensured all documentation were correct and complete. Photograph of the scene showing the final conditions were taken. Ensure all evidence was secured and all equipment was retrieved. The release of the crime scene was done after the final survey. Ensured all crime scene released documentation included the time and date of release, and to who it is being release to, by who released .

Reference

  • (CPOLS) California Peace Officers Legal Sources. 2009. Section 2.8 Chain of Custody.
  • Bardsley, M., & Bellamy, P. (n.d.). JonBenet Ramsey Murder, an investigative analysis — Exposure — Crime Library on truTV.com. truTV.com: Not Reality. Actuality. Retrieved May 1, 2012, from http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/famous/ramsey/index_1.html
  • Booker, R. (n.d.). How to Collect Evidence at a Crime Scene | eHow.com. eHow | How to Videos, Articles & More - Discover the expert in you. | eHow.com. Retrieved February 9, 2012, from http://www.ehow.com/how_4907745_collect-evidence-crime-scene.html
  • Byrd, M. (n.d.). Duty Description for the Crime Scene Investigator -- Crime Scene Investigator Network. Crime Scene Investigator Network. Retrieved February 9, 2012, from http://www.crime-scene-investigator.net/dutydescription.html
  • Lotter, K. (2009, January 1). Forensic Evidence in the Ramsey Case: Investigating the Unsolved Case of JonBenet Ramsey | Suite101.com. Karen Lotter Writing Profile | Suite101.com. Retrieved May 1, 2012, from http://karenlotter.suite101.com/forensic-evidence-in-the-ramsey-case-a87580
  • Saferstein, R. (2011). Criminalistics: an introduction to forensic science (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Chain of custody and DNA laboratory. (n.d.). Custom Oxbridge essays and dissertations | Oxbridge Writers. Retrieved May 1, 2012, from http://www.oxbridgewriters.com/essays/biology/chain-of-custody-and-dna-laboratory.php