The chain of custody refers to the collection, documentation, and protection of evidence related to a certain case. For example, if a homicide was conducted, and the place of the crime has some blood traces, then the chain of custody implies that an investigator will prepare the necessary information and present it to the court in such a manner that will prove that he or she collected it directly from the scene of the murder. An investigator should reflect on how the evidence was collected and how it relates to the case (Brandl, 2014). In other words, the paramount role of the chain of custody is to prepare and protect the relevant information, thus organizing proper judicial proceedings. The competent and professional preparation of documents for participation in the court significantly increases one’s chances to win the case. As a rule, the preparation of the necessary documents depends on a procedural status of a plaintiff and the stage of the litigation.
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When the procedure of the chain of custody is violated by the lack of critical documents or any other factors, it creates some difficulties. For example, if a package lacks signing or a seal is broken, one may note the chain of custody failure. At worst, this may lead to litigation defeat due to the absence of verified evidence (Brandl, 2014). The occurred errors may cause mistrust of the presented information and influence the final decision. First of all, an investigator should log the events of failure and then contact the lab where the evidence was sent for the expertise. The content should be verified before resealing. In this connection, it may be advantageous to implement the suggestions revealed in the recent study by Nsofwa and Phiri (2016) regarding e-chain. It implies the use of state-of-the-art technology to secure seals with the help of barcodes.
In other words, the authors propose some extent of automation of the chain of custody processes. The information is to be entered into the system, and the assigned barcode will allow overviewing the evidence and also protecting it properly. The chain of custody based on securing electronic information collected from computers, servers, and mobile devices or entered from other sources contributes to the effective search and recovery of deleted, corrupted, or encrypted information (Prayudi & Sn, 2015). At the same time, it provides the opportunity to seek for and analyze electronic correspondence, including emails, SMS, as well as correspondence in popular messaging programs, such as Skype and others. It also seems important to point out the fact that another important provision of the above method of security refers to the reconstruction of the chain of events, focusing on the actions of one or different users in order to restore a reliable picture of what happened during a certain time period.
As a rule, the pieces of evidence are packaged and assigned a certain number. Considering that the process of investigation is aimed at establishing the path of continuity, no violation is admissible to the court, and a judge may declare that the documents are illegal (O’shaughnessy & Keane, 2013). It is considered that any break in the chain of custody may be a sign of tampered or substituted documents. For example, in the course of arrest procedures, an investigator should package and protect all the items of a suspect. In case some details are absent, one may note the prosecution to allegations that one attempts to suppress the evidence. To fix the situation, an investigator may try to seek some other credible sources of evidence. For example, it is possible to identify and contact persons that may prove the required information or provide additional details regarding the case. Another potential option is to interview victims, staff, neighbors to shape the background investigation. More to the point, the follow-up investigation may also involve one more attempt to re-establish the scene of the crime.
It goes without saying that the broken evidence and the violated chain of custody are unacceptable for the court. The specific instruction establishes uniform requirements for securing the preservation of court cases and documents that are mandatory for judges and employees of the court apparatus (Beckett, 2013). The shortcomings and violations discovered as a result of inspections are analyzed and discussed at the operational meetings under the chair of the court to take additional measures to ensure the security of court cases and documents. Thus, the issue of accepting a statement of claim for the production of a case is decided by a judge in compliance with the requirements of the Code in terms of the form and the content (Peterson & Shenoi, 2013). After acceptance of the statement of claim, the court issues a ruling on the initiation of proceedings. In case the chain of custody cannot be restored and verified, a judge declares the closing of the investigation and terminates the investigation activities. Occasionally, an investigation may be re-opened in case of detection of new information, the appearance of new witnesses, or erroneous closing.
Beckett, M. (2013). The missing link: Station level property rooms in the chain of custody. The Journal of Law Enforcement, 3(1), 1-18.
Brandl, S. G. (2014). Criminal investigation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Nsofwa, P., & Phiri, J. (2016). Developing an e-chain of custody and inventory system for the Zambia police force. International Journal of Advanced Studies in Computers, Science and Engineering, 5(4), 9-15.
O’shaughnessy, S., & Keane, A. (2013). Impact of cloud computing on digital forensic investigations. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer.
Peterson, G., & Shenoi, S. (Eds.). (2013). Advances in digital forensics IX. New York, NY: Springer.
Prayudi, Y., & Sn, A. (2015). Digital chain of custody: State of the art. International Journal of Computer Applications, 114(5), 1-9.