Connecting the Links: Chain of Custody and Documentation Procedures

AbstractThis essay firstly explains what the chain of custody, as it pertains to crime scene investigations, is and why it is important. Secondly, the six procedures for documenting a crime scene will be introduced and explained. These two subjects are an extremely vital sequence in crime scene investigations which cannot be over detailed. Cases have been lost because of errors made while documenting custody changes and crimes scenes.

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Connecting the Links: Chain of Custody and Documentation Procedures What is the “chain of custody?” The chain of custody is a term, mostly used in a legal form or in reference of a document, which supplies a written reference to the collection, transfer, and testing of any piece of evidence.

A chain of custody is referred to as a documented, chronological history of a specimen which, when completed correctly, protects the integrity of that specimen. Paper templates are normally used to document certain required information about the specimen, such as when it was collected, where it was found, the name or initials of the investigator who found it, a brief description of the evidence and each and every agency to which it was transferred, (

Referring to a chain of custody as important is an understatement. Cases are both won and lost due to the custodial changes of evidence. In order to introduce a single specimen as relevant evidence in a trial, one must prove that such piece of evidence is in fact the same item which was confiscated from the place or person in question.

This can only be accomplished through testimony and physical proof of a valid chain of custody. It is impossible to prove the validity of questioned evidence if the integrity of the chain is compromised. One of the most difficult aspects to prove “true” evidence is the ability of the discovering investigator to identify the evidence ( This is usually due to the improper marking of evidence. When performing a search of a crime scene are six categories of documentation which apply to the search.

They are the administrative worksheet, narrative description, photographic log, diagram or sketch, evidence recovery log and the latent print log. It is important to document a crime scene so that every detail is recorded. This will ensure that there have been no areas which have not been covered. Some departments have found that the use of template Connecting the Links 4

forms aid in the documentation of certain aspects of a crime scene ( The investigator may also choose to speak into a voice recorder and later on refer to his recorded notes to fill out one of the templates. Regardless of the method used, it is important to document everything. Now let’s take a look at the six procedures. Administrative Worksheet: This is a written documentation to ensure that the search is completed in and organized manner. All times, major events, and movements which relate to the search are documented on this form. Required information includes but is not limited to, all parties who enter the scene, what time they entered and what time they left.

Narrative Description: This is a documentation of the crime scene as it is first observed. The appearance should be documented in a general fashion. There is no need to provide exact details at this point. Photographic Log: This is a documentation of the photographed scene. All areas of the scene should be photographed using an overall view, medium view and a close up view. When photographing items in the close up view, make sure that a measuring device, in order to scale the item, is used when it is appropriate to do so. Diagram/Sketch:

The sketch should include locations of all physical evidence. The measurements should include the exact place from which a person or item was observed. Evidence Recovery Log: The evidence recovery log should include a full description of the evidence, who found it, where it was found and at what time, how it was tagged, and the initials of the finder should be placed on the container which secures the evidence.

Latent Print Lift Log: This log must include the marking and packaging of all of the recovered prints. Remember, prior to lifting the latent, a photograph should be taken. This should also include the name of the finder. Connecting the Links 5 ReferencesKenneth A. Vercammen,, Proof of Chain of Custody in a Criminal Case, Retrieved February 16, 006, Crime Scene Response Guidelines: Documentation Procedures, Retrieved February 02-24-2006, Retrieved February 23, 2006,