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Chain of Custody

To maintain chain of custody, you must preserve evidence from the time it is collected to the time it is presented in court. To prove the chain of custody, and ultimately show that the evidence has remained intact, prosecutors generally need service providers who can testify—

  • That the evidence offered in court is the same evidence they collected or received.
  • To the time and date the evidence was received or transferred to another provider.
  • That there was no tampering with the item while it was in custody.

A challenge in proving chain of custody can arise when service providers fail to properly initial and date the evidence or fail to place a case number with it.

To maintain the chain of custody for evidence collected during medical forensic examinations, label each item of evidence with the initials of everyone who handled it, the date, a description and source of the specimen, the name of the examiner, and the name of the patient. Also, make sure to address chain of custody in your SART's protocols or guidelines. In New Jersey, for example, the Attorney General Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault states the following:1

At the conclusion of the sexual assault medical forensic examination, any evidence collected will be packaged and protected in a manner to ensure the integrity of specimens and the appropriate chain of custody of the evidence. It is recommended that health care facilities work cooperatively with the County Prosecutor's Office to develop a written protocol to ensure proper handling of any identified and collected evidence.