Forensic Issues: Maintaining the Chain of Evidence

I can remember when I’d been in nursing about two years and became involved with a patient who’d been the victim of a sexual assault. I was tasked with the job of collecting most of the evidence for her rape kit and when I was done, I had about three large paper (grocery size) bags of evidence.

Photo by Todd Wiseman

Taking care of a sexual assault victim takes a lot of time. It can easily tie up one nurse for several hours. What becomes paramount is maintaining the Chain of Evidence or Chain of Custody. You may find that these terms are used interchangeably but essentially mean the same thing.

Chain of custody is a record of who was accountable for the evidence from the time it is collected to the time it is disposed of. It’s a chronological record of signatures of who possessed the evidence when. If the chain of custody is broken, the item may be inadmissible in a court of law.

The envelope is designed to reflect this. It may look something like this:

Jordyn Redwood, RN
Steven Lee– Denver PD

Steven Lee– Denver PD
Luke Simmons– Denver Crime Lab

Etc…etc.

From the point in time where I collect the evidence, it should be locked up where few people have access. For instance, a locker where there is only one key. It could come into play who has access to the locker so it should only be a small group of people. If the evidence cannot be locked up, then it must stay in the possession of the person who collected it until it is handed off to the next responsible person– typically someone in law enforcement.

In my case, there wasn’t a place to lock it up. The police took about an hour to claim it. So, as I continued to care for patients, I literally carried those bags with me from room to room.

Can you think of a plot where chain of evidence could come in to play? My thought was… what if someone was an impostor and signed on the chain of custody log. What would happen when that was found out?

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