Chain of custody issue

 Posted By: je froilan m. clerigo




2 days ago, I was in court waiting for my case to be called. Another case, a criminal one, was called before mine and was being tried. The witness was the apprehending officer. The public prosecutor was doing the direct examination.

During the direct, the witness identified the sachet he described as "containing crystalline substance", which he said he recovered from the accused. When asked how he now knows that that was the very same sachet from the accused, he said that, the reason he is able to identify this in court is because he wrote his initials "JM" on the sachet.

On cross-examination, an interesting point was raised by the defense counsel. He asked the officer if it was his usual practice to put only his initials on the sachet. The witness replied yes. Before and after this case, had he apprehended other drug suspects? Yes. Did he put the same initials as a way to identify the sachets or drugs that he recovered in these other cases? Yes. So, all the sachets bear the same "JM" markings? Yes. So, how is it that he is able to distinguish one sachet in one case from another sachet in another case, when the markings are the same? The witness falteringly replied that he knows because of a logbook his office keeps of the evidence turned over to their custodian. Unfortunately, he did not bring the logbook.

Do you think that the evidence should be excluded for failure to lay down foundation for its admissibility? Note that the court should make sure that the evidence coming in is the same exact thing that it purports to be; if it has the potential of misleading, then it should be excluded. Here, if the prosecution is unable to establish to the court's satisfaction that the sachet of drugs identified on the stand is the very same that was recovered from the accused, will it not have that misleading potential?

Because of the significance of the sachet though - without it the drug case will necessarily fail - we think that the court will not disallow it but admit it into evidence and just consider the failure to lay foundation as a question of credibility of the apprehending officer.

What do you think?