Friday, March 2, 2012

Forensic Issues: Maintaining the Chain of Evidence

I can remember when I'd been in nursing about two years and became involved with a patient who'd been the victim of a sexual assault. I was tasked with the job of collecting most of the evidence for her rape kit and when I was done, I had about three large paper (grocery size) bags of evidence.

Photo by Todd Wiseman

Taking care of a sexual assault victim takes a lot of time. It can easily tie up one nurse for several hours. What becomes paramount is maintaining the Chain of Evidence or Chain of Custody. You may find that these terms are used interchangeably but essentially mean the same thing.

Chain of custody is a record of who was accountable for the evidence from the time it is collected to the time it is disposed of. It's a chronological record of signatures of who possessed the evidence when. If the chain of custody is broken, the item may be inadmissible in a court of law.

The envelope is designed to reflect this. It may look something like this:

Jordyn Redwood, RN
Steven Lee-- Denver PD

Steven Lee-- Denver PD
Luke Simmons-- Denver Crime Lab


From the point in time where I collect the evidence, it should be locked up where few people have access. For instance, a locker where there is only one key. It could come into play who has access to the locker so it should only be a small group of people. If the evidence cannot be locked up, then it must stay in the possession of the person who collected it until it is handed off to the next responsible person-- typically someone in law enforcement.

In my case, there wasn't a place to lock it up. The police took about an hour to claim it. So, as I continued to care for patients, I literally carried those bags with me from room to room.

Can you think of a plot where chain of evidence could come in to play? My thought was... what if someone was an impostor and signed on the chain of custody log. What would happen when that was found out?


  1. Fascinating! Interesting plot idea. Forensics is a great interest of mine. Goodness, it must be stressful to be the nurse who has to collect the evidence without carrying it around as well! Did any of your patients ask what was in those bags?

    1. Yes, Sue. I told them it was evidence I collected from a crime victim. You kind of have to say something lugging all that stuff around!

  2. You accidentally left the bags of evidence in one of your patient's rooms, and later found the items contaminated. But the person where you left the bags isn't in the room. In fact he has disappeared and you cannot account for the contamination. His name doesn't show up in the hospital's or clinic's files anywhere. It's like he never existed!

    I,too, love forensics.

    desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

    1. Oohh, Linda, that's a devlish plot idea. Strong work!!