The Impact of Mishandled Evidence on the Accused
August 21, 2019
When evidence is lost or destroyed, a court must decide guilt or innocence based solely on the witness’s unsubstantiated testimony for both the prosecution and defense. And if the evidence was exculpatory, the defendant will be negatively impacted, even if a new trial is ordered.
Mishandled, damaged or lost physical or digital evidence can happen at any time during the chain of custody: at the crime scene, during the packaging, when transferring, and during evidence analysis and storage. While forensic scientists are sensitive to the issue of contamination and have developed protocols to identify and reduce these risks, law enforcement has been slower to incorporate precautions in contamination prevention.
Sometimes, it’s not only the victims that suffer due to mishandled evidence, but the accused as well. Recently, the FBI admitted to decades of relying on faulty hair analysis in trials – a grave error in criminal proceedings. Among those convicted on fraudulent evidence, 32 defendants were sentenced to death, 14 of whom have either died in prison or had already been executed.
Related: How One Officer Went Bad
It’s not just major agencies that can impact hundreds of lives by mishandling evidence. Sometimes, it just takes a single person…
Detective Kenneth L. Valdez was indefinitely suspended from the SVU for a number of violations that took place over two years, according to a suspension report obtained by the SACurrent. Valdez failed to submit forensic evidence to the Bexar County crime lab for any of the 27 cases he was assigned to investigate over that time period. Of the 27 cases, 17 contained evidence that specifically needed forensic testing. The report claims Valdez also failed to properly take care of evidence recovered in an investigation — inspectors found unmarked cell phones, DVDs, CDs and cash in his office, along with several unmarked envelopes containing saliva swabs taken from a person’s mouth.
At least twice, Valdez did not follow up on crucial information given to him from the crime lab about possible suspects in his cases. The report mentions one of his cases where he “failed to act” after learning that a known suspect’s DNA was found on a victim. He instead concealed the information and closed the case without his supervisor’s approval.
Police departments, law enforcement officers and evidence custodians can learn a lot from the real-life cases of mishandled or lost physical and digital evidence. It’s imperative for every law enforcement agency to evaluate the effectiveness of their evidence management system and consider the benefits of using evidence tracking software, as opposed to the old, ineffective paper trail systems.
If the SVU had an effective tracking system, and a properly trained evidence custodian – to work with, and get updates from, the responsible officer – each piece of evidence would be easy to find, track and locate. Not only that, with Tracker Products’ SAFE evidence tracking software, a complete history of the chain of custody – from intake, to lab work, and the actions of the responsible officer – is documented.
“This technology has streamlined the process of booking property and allowed us to become more efficient in our daily work. The ability to tailor the system to our individual needs and the quick response of Tracker Products’ technical support are key advantages versus other systems we researched.” — Eric Quintero, Senior CSO, Garden Grove PD
Taking affirmative steps to ensure that all systems are effective and all personnel are properly trained is the best way for law enforcement departments and agencies to minimize the potential for mishandling or losing physical and digital evidence.
In addition to inventory control; managing evidence requires a system capable of producing an unbreakable chain of custody, providing documentation of evidence movement and transfer, managing the flow of digital evidence, facilitating communication between investigators and Evidence Custodians, automating the disposal approval process and automating accountability functions like audits and inventories.
Our SAFE evidence tracking software is more than just barcodes and inventory control, this Tracker Product is an end-to-end chain of custody software for physical and digital evidence, resolving each of the critical issues facing evidence management today. To learn more about Tracker Products, or read more of our popular blogs Visit Us Here!
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