The inundation of digital evidence in modern-day law enforcement poses a new challenge: ensuring an unbroken chain of custody for digital evidence. In a time where evidence includes everything from CCTV, body cam, and dashcam footage to crime scene pictures to audio recordings, managing that digital evidence becomes a cumbersome process, considering that you can’t tag and keep digital files on a shelf in an evidence locker. Naturally, this creates the risk of tampering or mishandling of digital evidence, leading to inadmissibility in the legal proceeding of a case.
The Importance of Chain of Custody for Digital Evidence
Evidence requires diligent management to avoid tampering. In legal terms, the chain of custody or CoC refers to the chronological documentation of records for custody, control, transfer, analysis, and disposition of physical or electronic evidence.
When physical evidence is making rounds from first responders to forensics to investigators inside an envelope, it’s easy to trace the evidence and track each person that gets hold of it with their signatures on the envelope or a registry. But things get tricky when digital evidence is involved. Unlike physical evidence, digital evidence is more accessible and can be manipulated or duplicated without being easily detected, effectively losing all its legal worth.
That’s why digital forensics is governed by law to dissuade mishandling. Without proof of proper documentation to confirm the lack of any mishandling, the court can raise doubts on the integrity and authenticity of the evidence, and dismiss it as inadmissible.
Therefore, it’s important for law enforcement agencies to maintain a rock-solid chain of custody and guarantee that there has been no mishandling or tampering with the evidence.
Why Is Chain of Custody Important?
A chain of custody demonstrates the integrity of the evidence and determines whether evidence is competent and admissible in the court of law. It records a log of all user activity against a piece of evidence, and anyone who handles the evidence can be called to court to testify. A chain of custody reflects whether the evidence has not been accessed by unauthorized users tampered with in any way, from the beginning till case closure. This is why it’s also important that the chain of custody trail stretches all the way back to the collection of the evidence at the scene of the crime and changes as few hands as possible.
Without presenting a chain of custody report with the evidence in court, the evidence will most likely be deemed inadmissible and rendering all analysis and conclusions drawn from it completely futile.
To demonstrate how the chain of custody works, here’s an example:
Take for example the case of Stephen Conlin. In 2012, Conlin managed to get his charges reduced from 3rd-degree marijuana sale to 5th-degree marijuana possession, simply because law enforcement failed to maintain a reliable chain of custody. Between Conlin’s arrest and his appeal, an unrelated police officer checked out 12 bags of marijuana confiscated from Conlin for dog-sniff training, without signing the chain of custody log sheet. In the appeal, the judge discounted the 12 bags and weighed the remaining 5 bags, which weighed less than the 5 pounds needed for ruling 3rd-degree charges on the sale of marijuana. This is a perfect example of how even the most incriminating evidence can end up being useless in court without an adequate chain of custody.
In the appeal, the judge discounted the 12 bags and weighed the remaining 5 bags, which weighed less than the 5 pounds needed for the 3rd-degree sale of marijuana. This case is a perfect example of how an inadequate chain of custody can deem incriminating evidence inadmissible in the court of law.
In addition to law enforcement, chain of custody is equally important in modern medicine, particularly in pharmaceutical research. Considering all the new GXP (or ‘good practices’) regulations and guidelines, maintaining a chain of custody has newfound importance in medical research to provide traceability and control over documents, data, and samples, and ensure seamless compliance with the guidelines.
Maintain a Complete Evidence Chain of Custody with VIDIZMO
VIDIZMO Digital Evidence Management System maintains chronological records of all user activities, including information about who accessed evidence and tracks all actions by every user within the system, such as when a user views, shares, or uploads evidence.
The system gives you a transparent outlook of the entire chain of custody and helps you ensure the integrity and credibility of your digital evidence in the court of law while complying with CJIS, FedRamp, and other compliances.
VIDIZMO Digital Evidence Management System maintains the evidence life cycle through a set of security-oriented chronological documentation that provides a trail of activities performed on any digital evidence. A list shows you exactly who accessed the evidence file on the platform and what they did with it, along with their IP addresses.
This helps extract crucial information such as re-assignment of evidence to a previous officer or transfer of access to the defense attorney for limited viewing rights into a consolidated Chain of Custody report. You can download this information as a CSV file, print it, and present it in the court of law, if need be, to prove the integrity of your evidence.
To ensure additional security, VIDIZMO, with its automated evidence sync desktop application functionality, generates a chain of custody report even for all the offline activity on the evidence, which is synced every time users connect to the internet to track and prove the chronology of events that occur using the digital evidence chain of custody.
Additionally, VIDIZMO also provides access reason provisioning so the agency can keep track of who and why someone accessed evidence. Using this feature, the agency can obligate users to provide a valid reason to access the evidence, and the information is also logged and recorded in the chain of custody report.
This creates a smooth monitoring process where the law enforcement agencies can ensure they have a detailed record of all user activity against any evidence, such as which officer accessed what evidence or case and for what purpose. Additionally, VIDIZMO provides several other features to ensure the integrity of evidence, such as role-based access control and cryptographic hash function to detect tampering.
An unbroken chain of custody is essential to the admissibility of evidence in court. With VIDIZMO’s Digital Evidence Management System (DEMS), you can maintain a complete record of all user activity against evidence for chain of custody requirements, detect tampering and keep track of all the activities on the system.