When Orlando police officers or Orange County deputies arrest someone on drug charges, they usually seize evidence from the scene, such as drugs and paraphernalia that was allegedly in the suspect’s possession.
If the case goes to trial, it might not happen for weeks or months. How can you be sure that the evidence the prosecutor presents at trial was actually the same items collected at your arrest? If it isn’t, what can you and your defense attorney do about it?
Often, the answer to both questions is what is called the chain of custody. This legal term refers to the requirement that criminal authorities be able to account for the location and control of evidence at all stages. This includes the moment police seized the item, time spent in storage, and any other time the item changes hands.
Why this matters
The chain of custody is important for two reasons. One, it puts the burden on the prosecution to prove that the evidence they present at trial is, in fact, the same items taken during the investigation. Two, it forces the prosecutors to prove that at no point was the evidence tampered with. For example, if the prosecutor wants to present a bag of methamphetamine as evidence that you were involved in drug trafficking, they first have to show proof that the police and prosecutor’s office handled that meth properly at all times and can account for everyone who had possessed or handled it since it was seized.
If your defense lawyer has reason to believe there was a break in the chain of custody, they can challenge it in court and request that the judge throw out the evidence. This would likely have a huge impact on the prosecution’s case against you.