Chain of Custody in a Maryland Drug Case

What is the Chain of Custody?

After seizing a controlled dangerous substance from a defendant (or car, a house, or some other location) the arresting police officer will usually field test the drug and then bag it up, writing the officers initials or other markings on the sealed bag as identification. From that point, the sealed bag of alleged drugs may change hands several times as it makes its way to storage at the police station, to a lab for testing by a chemist, and eventually to court for trial. Each time an officer, chemist, or lab tech handles the alleged contraband, the police must keep a detailed log of those persons and what they did with the drugs–that is called the “chain of custody.”

A detailed chain of custody is required because otherwise the State can’t prove that the alleged controlled dangerous substance that was initially seized by the police is the exact same substance that was tested by the chemist and now is being used as evidence at trial against the defendant. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know to demand that the State provide a detailed chain of custody and have all officers who handled the drugs along the chain available at trial.

I recently had a case in Prince George’s County where my client was charged with having a controlled dangerous substance stashed in his shoe. After he was placed under arrest for an unrelated offense, a different officer than the initial arresting officer searched him prior to lock-up and found the contraband, which that officer then handed over to the arresting officer. On the day of trial, the arresting officer was present in court. However, I noticed that the officer who initially found the contraband in my client’s shoe was not present. I was able to pull the prosecutor aside and explain that they could not possibly win their case against my client without that officer, because there was no way of knowing where the drugs came from without testimony from the officer who allegedly pulled it out of my client’s shoe. The prosecutor to his credit agreed with this assessment. Instead of going forward with a trial, the State dropped all the charges against my client that day.

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.