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What is Chain of Custody and How Can it Affect My Case?

On behalf of Dolan + Zimmerman LLP September 29, 2021

Chain of custody is a crucial aspect of any criminal case. If evidence is recovered that shows you may have committed a crime, there must be a valid chain of custody. The evidence was collected and documented properly from the moment it was discovered until the moment it was presented in court. If there are issues regarding chain of custody, it could have a significant impact on your case.


Why Chain of Custody is Important

Chain of custody is crucial because it forces law enforcement and prosecutors to collect evidence properly and document it accordingly. If there were no requirements to show where the evidence came from and who had access to it, law enforcement and prosecutors would be able to manufacture evidence much more easily. While most officers wouldn’t create false evidence, there are bad apples in every profession, and there’s no question that some law enforcement professionals or prosecutors would take advantage of the lack of rules. If there’s no transparent chain of custody, or there are issues surrounding who had the evidence and when, this could be grounds to have the evidence suppressed. 


Examples of Chain of Custody

Some prime examples of when chain of custody is important include a situation in which there were DUI charges and/or drug crimes. In a DUI case, law enforcement often takes blood, breath, or urine samples from a person in order to prove that they were intoxicated while driving. If these samples are collected, chain of custody has to be followed. It must be documented who performed the chemical test on the driver, where the lab test was analyzed, and there must be a record of everyone else who accessed the samples. 

In cases involving drugs, one of the first things law enforcement does is seize the alleged drugs. At some point, the suspected contraband has to be sent to a lab for testing to determine if what they collected are drugs or not..  

These are some common examples, but chain of custody refers to any evidence in a criminal case, such as DNA, photographs, weapons, and anything else that was recovered during an arrest or investigation. 


How It Affects Your Case

Chain of custody issues can have a significant effect on your case. If law enforcement or the prosecutor doesn’t properly document chain of custody, it could lead to some or all of the evidence in your case being inadmissible. This means it can’t be used at trial. If there is evidence against you in which the chain of custody is in doubt, it’s not uncommon that this would lead to having all of your charges withdrawn. 

Essentially, at a criminal trial, the prosecutor must prove that the evidence they’re presenting is what they say it is (for example, the drugs are drugs), the evidence actually came from the defendant or from wherever they claim it came from, possession of the evidence was properly logged each time it was moved or analyzed, and the evidence is in substantially the same condition as it was when it was collected. 

If you were arrested and believe there is a chain of custody issue in your case, an experienced criminal defense attorney in Boulder can assist.