I AM AN OFFICER TAKING OVER A CID UNIT AND NOTICED THAT DRUG EVIDENCE FROM MY AGENCY IS BEING MAILED TO THE DPS LAB. THIS TO ME SEEMS LIKE A PROBLEM DUE TO CHAIN OF CUSTODY ISSUES IN COURT. I WAS WONDERING HAS ANYONE LOST CASES BECAUSE DRUG EVIDENCE WAS MAILED VERSUS BEING DRIVEN TO THE DPS LAB? IF YOU HAVE TELL ME ABOUT IT IN DETAIL PLEASE, SO I CAN DISCUSS THIS WITH MY ADMINISTRATION.
Use of the U.S. mail does not seem to raise any issue as to tampering or alteration, and thus at most you are talking about a minor theoretical breach in the chain of custody, not something that should present any problem. See Hall, 13 S.W.3d at 120-1.
In my first DWI trial I encountered this situation. The defendant was intoxicated off of prescription drugs and over the counter drugs. She was so intoxicated she could not stand up. The officer did not perform field sobriety tasks based on the level of intoxication of the driver. He also did not smell any alcohol on her breath because she had not been drinking; therefore, the officer did not have any other evidence of the intoxicating substance. Case law dictates you have to show the first and last chain for chain of custody purposes. I called both the officer and the lab technicians. The evidence was first mailed to crime labs in Chorpus and then to Austin when it was discovered that there was no alcohol in the blood. I was able to sho the first and last link in the chain; however, I could not explain anything else. My judge refused to allow the evidence in under her discretionary powers. Luckily this loss was only for a DWI and not a DWI intoxication manslaughter. The jury all felt she was intoxicated but they had no evidence that she acted the way she did from the introduction of some substance. It did not help that the defendant also had mental problems or that the foreman was a registered nurse. Needless to say, I do not like the practice of mailing blood off.
If you had crime lab personnel as your chain I don't understand why you couldn't make the entire chain with the exception of the postal employees who took evidence and delivered it to the labs. You handle that by simply having the person who mailed it testify that it was sealed up and then the person who receives it testifies that it was still sealed when it was received. I have been using mailed evidence for my entire 14 year career as a prosecutor. It should not be a problem, unless you have a hypertechnical judge who simply refuses to follow the law. The so-called break in the chain from mailing should have absolutely no impact on the admissibility of the exhibit. In legal terms, it goes to the weight and not the admissibility. In other words, if the defense attorney wants to argue to the jury that some postal employee opened up this package and put the stuff in there to frame his client he is free to do so but it should not affect the admissibility.
Posts: 283 | Location: Montague, Texas, USA | Registered: January 26, 2001