The chain of custody begins when an item of evidence is collected, and the chain is maintained until the evidence is disposed of. The chain of custody assures continuous accountability. This accountability is inportant because, if not properly maintained, an item may be inadmissible in court.
The chain of custody is a chronological written record of those individuals who have had custody of the evidence from its initial acquisition until its final disposition. These persons in the chain of custody must be identified on the OPNAV 5527/22, Evidence/ Property Custody Document, which is initiated when the evidence is acquired.
Each individual in the chain of custody is responsible for an item of evidence to include its care, safekeeping, and preservation while it is under his or her control. Because of the sensitive nature of evidence, an evidence custodian is provided to assume responsibility for the evidence when not in use by the investigating officer of other competent authority involved in the investigation; for example, a TC.
The evidence custodian must be a commissioned officer, warrant officer, or an enlisted person appointed on competent orders. The person appointed as the custodian should be available to receive and release evidence and attend to other matters as required.
The criteria for appointment and duties of the alternate custodian are the same as those for the custodian. The alternate is to assist the custodian and is available when the custodian is not. The custodian and alternate should not be absent at the same time. The alternate does not make final disposition on any item of evidence.
The Evidenc/Property Custody Receipt, OPNAV Form 5527/22 (fig. 6-23), is issued as the official record of receipt, chain of custody, and final disposition of items of physical evidence.
EVIDENCE RECEIPT.- When using this form as an evidence receipt, prepare an original and three copies. Present the original and first copy to the evidence custodian, give the second to the person from whom the evidence was received, and place the third in the report file. When items of evidence gained during one transaction exceed the space allotted on a single form, continue the list on additional forms.
EVIDENCE VOUCHER.- The original chain of custody form becomes a voucher and is given a voucher number when it is presented to the evidence custodian. Number evidence vouchers consecutively for each calendar year. Write these numbers in the margin at the bottom right corner of the form. Pencil in the location of the evidence accounted for with the voucher on the bottom left margin of the form and erase and change it
whenever the location of the evidence changes; for example, located in evidence room safe, items 1 and 2 in safe, items 3 and 4 in evidence bin No. 6.
Complete the chain of custody section on the evidence voucher whenever any part of the evidence leaves the office, is returned, or a new evidence custodian assumes control. The original evidence voucher should not leave the office except for submission in court. Maintain a duplicate copy in the voucher file to show the disposition of the original.
EVIDENCE SUBVOUCHER.- A chain of custody form used as a subvoucher accompanies evidence to record any changes of custody that may occur while the evidence leaves the evidence room. Use a copy of the original evidence voucher or make an extract of the original. Always prepare subvouchers in duplicate with the original accompanying the evidence. Number subvouchers consecutively; for example, SV-1 and SV-2. Add this number to the number of the original voucher. When only part of the items listed on a voucher is to be removed from the evidence room, prepare an evidence subvoucher. Prepare it exactly as the original voucher but include only those items being released in the description of evidence.
ORIGINATION.- Rarely if ever will you have to start the original chain of custody receipt. Normally, this is begun at base security or NCIS. Understanding the need for maintaining the chain of custody to properly safeguard evidence is important for all involved, from the security investigator to the TC. As an LN working in the trial division, you could possibly be responsible for keeping and maintaining evidence. Observing the proper procedures will save a lot of embarrassment for you and the command.
When no longer needed for a court-martial or other purposes, property of evidentiary value should be disposed of as follows: if the owner of the property is known, and it is legal for him or her to have it, return it; if it is legal to own the property in question, but the owner is unknown, turn the property over to the property disposal officer, unless the property is money, in which case it is turned over to the disbursing officer; and if the property is illegal to have, then destroy it and keep a record of its destruction.