November 2014

In This Issue
How Well is Your Evidence Tracked and Controlled?

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 How Well is Your Evidence Tracked and Controlled?

"Advances in forensic science have made physical evidence increasingly crucial in criminal justice - but the practice of preserving and maintaining that evidence is often underfunded, poorly managed, or just plain sloppy".

By Jordan Smith, Fri., Feb. 15, 2013, Austin Chronicle 


As an attorney you understand physical evidence. You know that evidence is valuable as long as it is relevant, untainted, in its original form (or as close as possible), and properly controlled. For the purpose of this article let's consider only physical evidence related to your case that has been collected by an investigative or law enforcement agency. Physical evidence is presented in virtually every type of case conducted by investigators, but what if the evidence is not as 'pure' as it should be? What if the integrity of evidence being brought into court is not really representative of the way the evidence was supposed to have been controlled? Would you know? Have you ever physically visited an evidence room or looked through evidence in any condition outside the courtroom or classroom?


In my experience physical evidence is rarely maintained the way it's supposed to be, particularly when facilities are in short supply and staff are underpaid or undertrained, which is often the case. I submit that this should receive a lot more attention from defense attorneys than it does. Frankly, considering the dismal condition of some evidence storage facilities I've examined, some police agencies run the very real risk of having all of their cases thrown out due to the lack of controls and lack of safeguards of their evidence. If prosecutors knew the conditions in which evidence was kept, they would not be willing to take as many cases to court as they do.


Some agencies strictly control evidence, and they should serve as models for other agencies. It seems to me that many law enforcement agencies pay lip service to evidence control but in real practice they just don't do it. A dedicated Evidence Control Unit is outside budget allowances, so most departments opt for the next best thing - assigning someone to be responsible for a boring, unrewarding and unacknowledged task. Guess how well that works.


Take for instance an evidence room that I, as the chief investigator for Arkansas investigations was hired to inventory. My findings were presented in court and in summary amounted to: "A total and abysmal failure of controls." I testified to those findings and to my opinion that if I had the authority I would have fired anyone (including the Chief) that had any responsibility for evidence control. In this particular case there were 1490 items in the evidence room and less than 10 of them were properly controlled. Rarely did we find... Read More


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