The Southampton Police Department is the latest law enforcement agency to come under scrutiny for failing to process evidence properly after an arrest and search. The missing drugs include crack, marijuana and prescription painkillers tied to a Southampton drug unit. These sloppy tactics have constitutional ramifications.
It’s called the chain of evidence. In order to prosecute for drug-related crimes that involve actual possession, district attorneys must prove that the incriminating evidence was properly handled by police. This sequencing includes:
The chain of evidence shows:
Any break in the chain might require the judge to suppress that evidence at trial, meaning the prosecution cannot bring it into the courtroom or show it to the jury. In Southampton several criminal cases have been dropped because of the inappropriate storage of criminal evidence.
Knowledgeable criminal defense lawyers have the legal savvy needed to examine police officers to discern whether there is any break in the chain of evidence. This is a most important step in the rigorous defense of a criminal prosecution. Nassau County’s police crime labs were closed in February 2011 for gross negligence in the handling of evidence, and. 3,000 pieces of evidence have to be retested by an independent laboratory at a cost of $1 million to check the integrity of the Nassau County crime lab results. Already courts have overturned some convictions.
The integrity of the criminal justice system is tied to the chain of evidence, often a weak link for the prosecution — a weak link that capable defense attorneys can sometimes break.