Proper seals are the fundamental starting point to insure evidence admissibility. If the collecting officer properly seals the evidence in proper packaging and he can identify those seals in the courtroom, most of the chain of custody battle is won. Any evidence clerk or property officer handling the evidence for storage and transportation purposes will typically not be part of the testimony about chain of custody.
There are many associations with procedure manuals that explain methods for proper evidence seals. One of the best known is the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD). The ASCLD standard says that an evidence container is properly sealed when:
- the contents cannot readily escape the package.
- entering the container results in obvious damage or alteration to the container or its seal.
- the actual seal must itself be sufficient to prevent the possibility of the item being lost or removed without altering the seal.
- the contents is beyond the possibility of contamination by an outside source.
To put the above in simpler and practical terms, the steps for proper sealing of evidence include:
- Tape the package shut and initial the seals so that you can tell if anyone has tampered with the package.
- Use quality packing tape
- NOT masking tape,
- duct tape,
- medical tape,
- or staples.
- Initial the tape partially on the tape and partially on the package.
- Put the following on the package:
- case number,
- a unique item number,
- the collecting officer’s name and ID number,
- the date,
- description of the item,
- location that it was found,
- and a diagram if applicable.
Take time to seal evidence correctly will help insure that the evidence is admissible.