Chain Of Custody Definition
This is called laying a proper foundation for the physical item.
See People v. Wood, 214 Ill.2d 455 (2005); see also People v. Howard, 387 Ill.App.3d 997 (2009); and People v. Cowans, 336 Ill.App.3d 173 (2002).
Chain Of Custody Required In Drug Cases
In a drug case chain of custody evidence is required.
A bag of cocaine looks like any other bag of cocaine. It also looks like a bag of flower. After suspected drugs are taken into custody from that point forward the state must account for the “chain of custody” for that item.
- Who took control of it?
- How was it stored or protected?
- Where was it kept?
- Who had access?
- When did it go to the crime lab?
- Who took it?
- How did the crime lab ensure it tested the right substance?
- How did the crime lab protect the item?
These are the kind of questions that might be asked by a prosecutor who is establishing a proper chain of custody.
Foundation For Physical Evidence
The character of the item determines which method for laying an adequate foundation must be used.
- Where an item has readily identifiable and unique characteristics, an its composition is not easily subject to change, an adequate foundation is laid by testimony that the item sought to be admitted is the same item recovered and is in the same or substantially the same condition as when it was recovered.
- Where an item, such as narcotics, is not readily identifiable or may be susceptible to tampering, contamination or exchange, an adequate foundation requires that the state establish a chain of custody for the item.
When Is A Chain of Custody Needed?
Generally, physical evidence that is not readily identifiable or is susceptible to tampering, contamination or exchange requires a chain of custody. See People v. Wood, 214 Ill.2d 455 (2005).
Chain Of Custody Evidence
How Is A Chain of Custody Established?
The State must show that the police took reasonable
protective measures to ensure that the substance recovered from the defendant was the same substance tested by the forensic chemist.
To establish a sufficient chain of custody, the State must prove
- Presence and
of the evidence. See People v. Echavarria, 362 Ill.App.3d 599 (2005).
Unique Identifier Number
Illinois decisions endorse the use of one unique identifier to show that each person in a chain of custody is describing the same piece of evidence; the unique identifier is typically a police inventory number. See, People v. Howard, 387 Ill.App.3d 997 (2009).
Use of one unique identifier is the simplest and so the most satisfactory, method of showing that each person was handling the same evidence.
Any Other System
If they don’t use a unique number to mark a substance the State nevertheless can establish a custody chain that is sufficiently complete to make it improbable that the evidence has been subject to tampering or accidental substitution.
Each custodian could use his or her own method to identify the object, as long as that method satisfactorily distinguishes the item from any other he or she might handle and allows him or her to reliably identify the item in court.
State Establishes A Prima Face Case
The State first establishes a prima facie showing that the chain of custody for controlled substances is sufficient by meeting its burden to establish that reasonable protective measures were taken to ensure that the evidence has not been tampered with, substituted or altered between the time of seizure and forensic testing.
After the State establishes a prima facie case, the burden
then shifts to the defendant to produce evidence of actual tampering, alteration or substitution.
Upon the defendant making such a showing, the burden again shifts to the State to rebut the defendant’s claim.
Missing Links In The Chain
A sufficiently complete chain of custody does not require that every person in the chain testify, nor must the State exclude every possibility of tampering or contamination; the State must demonstrate, however, that reasonable measures were employed to protect the evidence from the
time that it was seized and that it was unlikely that the evidence has been altered.
Once the State has established the probability that the evidence was not compromised, and unless the defendant shows actual evidence of tampering or substitution, deficiencies in the chain of custody go to the weight, not admissibility, of the evidence.
Even where the chain of custody has a missing link, trial courts have properly admitted evidence where there was testimony which sufficiently described the condition of the evidence when delivered which matched the description of the evidence when examined. See People v. Wood, 214 Ill.2d 455 (2005).
- People v. Wood, 214 Ill.2d 455 (2005) (state must show police took reasonable protective measures to ensure substance recovered was the same substance tested and admitted)
- People v. Johnson, 361 Ill.App.3d 430 (chain of custody from police station to the lab is also important)
- People v. Aquisto, 2022 IL App (4th) 200081 (state met foundation for drugs defendant sold to CI)
- People v. Winters, 97 Ill.App.3d 288 (1st Dist. 1981) (gun with serial number is unique, shell casings are unique and require chain of custody)
- People v. Cowans, 336 Ill.App.3d 173 (1st Dist. 2002) (there was no evidence regarding the handling and safekeeping of the controlled substance from the time the officer recovered it until the point in time when the forensic scientist recieved the evidence 16 days later)
- People v. Moore, 335 Ill.App.3d 616 (1st Dist. 2002) (state got burnt with this chain of custody stipulation)
- People v. Deluna, 334 Ill.App.3d 1 (1st Dist. 2002) (person in the lab who takes custody of the drugs need not be called as a witness)
- People v. Herrero, 324 Ill.App.3d 876 (1st Dist. 2001) (chemists repackaging is not a problem)
- People v. Fox, 337 Ill.App.3d 477 (1st Dist. 2003) (good general layout of chain of custody principles)
- People v. Lundy, 334 Ill.App.3d 819 (1st Dist. 2002) (officer did not testify that the drugs were put in a sealed container or bag, nor that the state lab received the ites in a sealed condition, nor do we know if the drugs were kept seperate from other suspect controlled substance, nor do we know who or where the items were stored and who had access to them)
- People v. Garth, 353 Ill.App.3d 108 (1st Dist. 2004) (good chain of custody stipulation)