Define Chain of Custody (COC)
Specimens collected from National Institute of Forensic Medicine, Malaysia are divided into forensic pathology samples, including autopsy and evidences collected at scene of crime and clinical forensic medicine samples, including specimens from victims, suspects or arrested persons and DNA evidences collected for paternity or maternity disputes. These specimens are taken to support postmortem findings on victim or perpetrator, to determine their manner or cause of death and act as evidence to relate or convict suspect to the crime. These specimens are sent for analysis including toxicology, alcohol, DNA and serology, entomology, weapon / tool mark, ballistic, physical trace evidence, histopathology, microbiology and virology testings.
How To Maintain COC
Chronology of documentation
Documentation starts from the receiving of a communication calls while sitting in the forensic service office at police station, but never stops or ongoing till when the investigation is completed and the case is closed. Documentation is the most important steps that requires investigator to be most systematic and organized in their procedures to record and preserve the location and relationship of physical evidence and condition of crime scene or the body found as well as to allow for any subsequent re-evaluation of the scene or physical evidence found at scene or the body itself. There are five documentation methods including note taking, still photography, sketching, videotaping and audio-taping. Notes are one of the components for the written record of activities, location of physical evidence, description of people at scene, condition of crime scene and autopsy findings. Audio and video tapings are essentially another form of note taking. Sketches and photographs complement each other to depict the crime scene or victim’s injuries adequately and properly. The well-worn saying one picture is worth a thousand words. Photographs aid in refreshing the memories of witnesses and investigators and show the relationships of items of evidence at the crime scene as well as help to convey an images or circumstances of crime or victims to the jury. For a photograph to be admissible in court, the investigator must be able to testify that it accurately depicts the area shown (PDRM 2009).
Movement and location of evidence
Whoever finds an item of evidence, it has to be marked with initials for later identification, but not to damage or alter any of the specific identifying characteristics. This is to ensure the investigator or pathologist can positively identify evidence as the exact one they found at the scene or body. However, not all evidence can be marked directly like bullet or shell casing, it can be placed into an evidence bag which is initialed by the person’s name who finds it and marked with information including the case number, the name and description of the item, the name of any witnesses to the discovery and recovery, date, time as well as location of the find. Some items require special packaging before being placed in an evidence bag. For example, a blood sample may be taken by pathologist using a moist cotton-tipped swab. After drying, the swab is placed into a sealed glass tube, and the tube is then marked with the collector’s initial and date. The tube is finally placed into an evidence bag which is similarly marked (Lyle 2004).
Personnel & Agency Involved
Chronology of documentation and movement of evidence
What Is Importance of COC in Court of Law
All of all, the preservation is the very importance of COC in court of law. This is to prevent the change of the original condition or the disturbance by adding, removing, moving, destroying or cross-contamination of the evidences at scene. Some of the preservation including always put on gloves and masks when entering the crime scene or mortuary, use of clean tools and equipments, pack and seal or double-seal exhibit correctly, examine the victim and suspect at specific site such as mortuary or forensic medicine department away from crime scene. Preservation starts from the proper recording at scene likewise documentation, tagging, seal and label, notes, sketches, photography or video footage. Whilst recovery is the collection and packaging of physical evidence in a way that prevents any change from taking place between the times it is removed from the crime scene and the times it is received by the forensic laboratory (Saferstein 2007). Proper tagging and labeling of physical evidence for later identification is important in adding credibility and control to the ability to identify the items in future. Often time people do not understand the importance of the little things that they do until they have done them. It is the little things that make people stand out. Do not speak of the work; however allow the work to speak for the people (PDRM 2009).
Impact Of COC Towards The Value Of Evidence And The Trial’s Outcome
For example, the ability to perform successful DNA analysis on biological evidence recovered from a crime scene or body depends very much on what kinds of specimens were collected and how were they preserved. If it is not properly collected, its biological activity may be lost. If it is improperly packaged, cross contamination might occur. And if the DNA evidence is not properly preserved, decomposition and deterioration may well occur. And of these effects will seriously affect the outcome of DNA typing and subsequently the trials. The unsatisfactory handling of the sample of blood leaves so many material gaps. The accused therefore cannot be penalized for the lack of ingenuity and seriousness in the police investigation and the conduct of the prosecution and he is entitled to the time-honored benefit of doubt (see Pang Chee Meng v Public Prosecutor  1 MLJ 137 at p 142). If the prosecution wish to rely on DNA evidence to establish a link between the sample of blood and the suspect in the instant case, against the accused, the prosecution ought to have at least introduced the basic set of facts to show who took the sample of blood, information such as from whom, how and when until such evidence is produced by the prosecution (Hisyam Abullah 2008).
- Almog J. 2006. The Concept of Diagnostic Field Tests. Journal of Forensic Science. S1(6) 1228 – 1234.
- Evidence Act 1950. Law of Malaysia: Incorporating all amendments up to 1 January 2006.
- Hisyam Abdullah @ Teh Poh Teik. 2008. Criminal Trial Advocacy For The Defence. 1st Ed. Pg. 221 – 233. Selangor Bar’s Secretariat.
- Lyle, D.P. 2004. Working the scene: Evidence Collection and Protection. 1st Ed. Forensic for Dummies pg. 29 – 46. Indiana: Wiley Publishing Inc.
- PDRM Forensic Laboratory. 2009. Chain of Custody. National University of Malaysia NX 3014 Crime Scne Investigation.
- PDRM Forensic Laboratory. 2009. Contamination & Preservation of Evidence. National University of Malaysia NX 3014 Crime Scne Investigation.
- Saferstein R. 2005. Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science. 8th Ed. Prentice Hall.
|Last Reviewed||:||23 August 2019|
|Writer||:||Lai Poh Soon|
|Accreditor||:||Dr. Siew Sheue Feng|
|Reviewer||:||Dr. Khoo Lay See|