chain of custody [English]

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Syndetic Relationships

InterPARES Definition

n. ~ A chronological list of entities that held records over time that can be used to demonstrate the authenticity of records.

General Notes

In a legal context, each entity in the chain of custody may be expected to attest to their receipt, proper safekeeping and handling, and disposition of the records.

Other Definitions

  • Black's 9th 2009 (†382 p. 250): The movement and location of real evidence, and the history of those persons who had it in their custody, from the time it is obtained to the time it is presented in court.


  • AJS 2012 (†421 s.v. "evidence" §960): Before demonstrative evidence can be admitted at trial, it must be properly authenticated or identified. To establish a foundation for admission, an item offered as real evidence must be positively identified as the actual item in question, which can be done by establishing unique or distinguishable configurations, marks, or other characteristics, or by satisfactory proof of the item's chain of custody from the time of the incident to the time of trial. The requirement of authentication or identification is satisfied by evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims. At the threshold, the proponent must make a prima facie showing of authenticity sufficient to enable a reasonable juror to find in favor of authenticity. A proper foundation for the admission of real evidence requires the proponent to prove that the proffered evidence was the same evidence actually involved in the event in question and that it remains materially unchanged from the time of the event until its admission. (†763)
  • AJS 2012 (†421 s.v. "evidence §961"): Objects not readily identifiable and susceptible to change; chain of custody requirements ¶ Generally, the more fungible the evidence, the more significant its condition, or the higher its susceptibility to change, the more elaborate the foundation must be. When the evidence sought to be admitted may be distinguished only via scientific testing, then a chain of custody must be demonstrated to meet authentication requirements. If an article of evidence has no distinctive features or is fungible, authentication of the item must be proven by showing a chain of custody, typically from the scene of the crime to the courtroom. Accordingly, the proponent of a particular tangible item of evidence must establish its "chain of custody," that is, must account for its handling from the time it was seized until it is offered into evidence. ¶The purpose of the chain-of-custody requirement is to ensure the reliability of the evidence to be tested. The law with respect to chain-of-custody issues requires proof sufficient to render it improbable that the original item has been exchanged, contaminated, or tampered with. A detailed chain of custody need be established only when the evidence offered is not readily identifiable or is susceptible to alteration and there is reason to believe that it may have been altered. Moreover, the chain of custody of an exhibit is irrelevant where the exhibit is positively identified at trial. (†764)
  • AJS 2012 (†421 s.v. "evidence §962"): Proof of proper chain of custody ¶ In general, to establish a proper chain of custody, identification of each "link" in the chain is required, and with regard to possession of the evidence by each "link, "the testimony must include three points: (1) the receipt of the item; (2) the ultimate disposition of the item, that is, transfer, destruction, or retention; and (3) the safeguarding and handling of the item between receipt and disposition. Variations in the testimony regarding the chain of custody or deficiencies in the chain of custody affect only its weight, not its admissibility. . . . ¶In setting up a chain of evidence, the prosecution is not required to elicit testimony from every custodian or every person who had an opportunity to come in contact with the evidence sought to be admitted. The fact that one of the persons in control of a fungible substance does not testify at trial does not, without more, make the substance or testimony relating to it inadmissible. Further, the chain of custody rule does not require the prosecution to account for the possession of evidence before it comes into their hands. . . . ¶The state bears the burden of establishing the proper chain of custody. While the state is not required to eliminate every possibility of tampering with the evidence in order to establish a chain of custody, the trial court must be satisfied within a reasonable probability that there has been no tampering. Thus, even with respect to sub-stances that are not clearly identifiable or distinguishable, it is unnecessary to establish a perfect chain of custody or eliminate all possibility of tampering or misidentification, so long as there is persuasive evidence that the reasonable probability is that the evidence has not been altered in any material respect. The requirement of reasonable certainty is not met when some vital link in the chain of possession is not accounted for, because then it is as likely as not that the evidence analyzed was not the evidence originally received (†765)
  • ISACA Glossary (†743 s.v. chain of custody): A legal principle regarding the validity and integrity of evidence. It requires accountability for anything that will be used as evidence in a legal proceeding to ensure that it can be accounted for from the time it was collected collected until the time it is presented presented in a court of law. Includes documentation as to who had access to the evidence and when, as well as the ability to identify evidence as being the exact item that was recovered or tested. Lack of control over evidence can lead to it being discredited. Chain of custody depends on the ability to verify that evidence could not have been tampered with. This is accomplished by sealing off the evidence, so it cannot be changed, and p groviding a documentary record of custody to prove that the evidence was at all times under strict control and not subject to tampering. (†1766)
  • Jenkinson 1922 (†502 p. 37-38): We have seen that the original custodian of Archives is some person connected with the Administration which produced them: we have seen also that the administrative functions and the Archives may be transferred to a totally different administrative authority without the Archives losing their character; nay, the functions may lapse and the Archives be taken over by some person or office totally unconnected with them and yet the chain of custody remain unbroken. . . . ¶ The question naturally suggests itself, what is the criterion of custody? It would seem that the custody of any given person or official must not cease without his expressly handing over his functions as Archive-keeper to some other responsible person. But this merely leaves us the task of defining a ' responsible person '. (†779)
  • NIST 2013 (†734 p. F-50): Chain of custody is a process that tracks the movement of evidence through its collection, safeguarding, and analysis life cycle by documenting each person who handled the evidence, the date and time it was collected or transferred, and the purpose for the transfer. (†1845)