Chain of custody. For those outside the legal profession, those words probably do not mean much, and there is no reason they should. There are many industry specific terms that those outside of that industry are most likely unfamiliar, and again, rightly so. The word for that is ‘jargon’. So, chain of custody is legal specific jargon. Defined, chain of custody refers to the chronological documentation or paper trail that records the sequence of custody, control, transfer, analysis, and disposition of physical or electronic evidence. That is, when a piece of evidence is found at a crime scene, there is supposed to be a meticulous paper trail that records every movement of that evidence from the moment that it is seized. It is a vital process whose purpose is to maintain the integrity of the evidence in question.
The O.J. Simpson trial in the early 1990’s is a perfect example of what happens when the integrity of chain of custody is shattered. The errors in chain of custody for that case were many. One of the main issues was that blood samples obtained from the scene where Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered were not immediately entered into the chain of custody. In fact, there is sworn testimony that officers who received those blood samples carried them around for an extended period of time before they were entered into the chain of custody rather than the appropriate time, which would have been the very moment that those officers received the evidence. One officer was walking around with blood vials in his pocket. Another put blood samples in a carboard box in the trunk of his car and were not entered into the chain of custody until a day later. What this does is call into questions the integrity of the evidence. How do we know that those samples were not in some way tampered with or manipulated is some way. The officers involved swore that was not the case, but how do we know? And that is the point. That is why the chain of custody is so important in maintaining the integrity of evidence in any criminal investigation.
Well, the Department of Public Safety’s crime lab in Houston, Texas is facing some serious questions about their chain of custody practices and the integrity of evidence that passes though that lab when blood samples from a case in Dallas County were mistakenly mailed to Tyler Flood, a criminaldefense attorney in Houston, Texas, who had no connection whatsoever to the case in which the blood samples were evidence. Bear in mind, these were not the results of tests on blood samples for a case in which this dwi lawyer was not the legal representative for the Defendant in questions. These were the actual samples of the defendent’s blood. “It was a huge blunder by the lab. Nobody outside the lab should ever be mailed evidence in any case, period. It was supposed to be sent back to the DPS Garland lab,” said Flood, who immediately requested an investigation by the Texas Forensic Science Commission. “The all important ‘chain of custody’ has been destroyed in this case,” he said. “Somewhere in the Dallas area, a jury would be asked to convict this person when the evidence has been completely mishandled and they might never have known about it.”
It is unsettled what will become of the case for this DWI Defendant after his blood samples were mistakenly mailed to lawyer and not the crime lab they should have been sent to. The odds on favorite are that the case will be dismissed. It would be a very hard sell at trial to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant in this case, who was charged with Driving While Intoxicated, should be convicted when the chain of custody has been so obviously broken. As for the Department of Public Safety crime lab who made the error, it will be up to an investigation to decide that matter.
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