Chain of Custody: Ensuring Evidence Integrity

If a Las Vegas police officer pulls you over for driving under the influence (DUI), Nevada law requires them to administer either a breathalyzer or blood test to determine the amount of alcohol in your system and the extent of your intoxication. The results of these tests are critical evidence in the case against you, and what happens to them after their collection can make or break the prosecutor’s case. As a result, what happens to them can also have significant implications for your rights and freedom.

Request a Legal Case Evaluation

A DUI charge carries significant penalties in Nevada, including fines, jail time, driver’s license restrictions, and more — and the punishment gets worse if you’re a repeat offender. Whether the prosecutor can prove your guilt depends heavily on the integrity of their evidence against you, and a disruption in the chain of custody can cause their case to collapse.

Face charges of driving under the influence. The Las Vegas DUI lawyers at De Castroverde Law Group Criminal & Immigration can help by arguing that the prosecutor can’t use evidence that doesn’t have a broken chain of custody. Contact us today to discuss your situation in a free initial consultation.

Chain of Custody

What Is Chain of Custody?

In a criminal case like DUI, a chain of custody refers to how different parties have handled physical or electronic evidence. All evidence must be properly collected, handled, transported, tested, and stored at every investigation phase. There must be documentation of which parties handled, processed, or always possessed the evidence.

It’s essential that the prosecutor can prove that a piece of evidence, such as a blood specimen or breathalyzer result, is the precise sample collected at the scene of your DUI arrest. If they cannot account for a piece of evidence at any stage in the investigation, the evidence may be inadmissible, and your charge may be reduced or dropped.

What’s an Example of the Chain of Custody Process in a DUI Case?

A single piece of evidence goes through several steps and procedures. Here’s an overview of a typical chain of custody for a blood sample drawn during a DUI arrest:

  • The officer draws the blood sample
  • The officer transports and delivers the sample to the testing laboratory
  • The lab technician analyzes the sample and places it in storage

This may not seem like much opportunity for anything to go wrong with the evidence. However, a surprising number of things can happen to a blood sample or breathalyzer result if the parties fail to follow proper procedures or document their work.

What Problems Can Occur with the Chain of Custody?

Chain of custody errors can have a significant impact on your DUI case. Some of the issues that can occur with the chain of custody and compromise the prosecutor’s case against you include:

  • Evidence goes missing
  • Evidence is mislabeled
  • Evidence is collected using the wrong method
  • Evidence is improperly secured during transport
  • Evidence is improperly stored
  • Evidence is tampered with
  • Evidence is not analyzed in a timely fashion
  • Errors occur during the collection or analysis of the evidence
  • An unqualified person performs the collection or analysis of the evidence
  • The testing equipment is improperly calibrated or poorly maintained
  • Chain of custody records are incomplete or missing

In short, any time the evidence changes hands, the details of that exchange must be documented. It’s essential that the person responsible for the evidence is always documented, as this can help prevent evidence from going missing or being tampered with — and identifies the person responsible if it does.

What Does the Prosecutor Have to Prove?

The prosecutor in your Nevada DUI case has to prove that there were no gaps in the chain of custody. Gaps mean the integrity of the evidence could be compromised. It’s much harder for the prosecutor to prove that the sample collected at the traffic stop scene is the sample that was analyzed when there’s a gap in the chain of custody. As a result, a compromised chain of custody can also compromise the prosecutor’s case against you.

What Are Some Chain of Custody Defenses Against a DUI Charge?

When you contact a criminal defense lawyer to represent you in a Las Vegas DUI case, they will thoroughly investigate the facts of your case — including the facts related to the evidence collected during your traffic stop. Through their investigation and analysis of the evidence, they’ll determine the defense strategy most likely to result in a favorable outcome.

While there are many possible defense strategies in a DUI case, a strategy that hinges on breaks in the chain of custody can effectively get evidence declared inadmissible. This can lead to the charges against you being reduced or dismissed. Some potential chain of custody defenses your attorney might employ include:

  • The breathalyzer test was improperly administered.
  • The blood sample was wrongly stored before analysis.
  • Breaks in the chain of custody suggest the possibility that the evidence was tampered with, mislabeled, or switched with that collected from another individual.
  • An individual collecting, transporting, storing, or analyzing the evidence was unqualified.
  • The equipment used to analyze the evidence was improperly calibrated, disrepair, or unreliable.

Your lawyer will pinpoint chain of custody errors to call the prosecutor’s case against you into question. If they cannot counter your defense, it may adversely affect the strength of their case.

Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Las Vegas, NV

When facing a DUI charge, the personal and professional stakes are high. You need a Las Vegas criminal defense attorney with experience representing clients accused of DUI and an understanding of how issues with the chain of custody can make a prosecutor’s case more challenging to prove.

De Castroverde Law Group Criminal & Immigration has decades of combined experience advocating for the rights of accused Nevadans, and we’re prepared to fight your DUI charge and protect your freedom aggressively. Contact us today for a free consultation to learn more about your legal rights and options.