By Joseph Salerno
The movement and location of physical evidence from the time it is obtained until the time it is presented in court is the legal definition of chain of custody. The results of any newborn alcohol or substance of abuse test performed at USDTL may eventually be presented as evidence in a court of law, and this is why USDTL maintains universal chain of custody regardless of the client source of testing specimens. A court can exclude the results of a test if a chain of custody for the newborn sample was not maintained by the hospital and USDTL.
Chain of custody for specimens sent to USDTL is maintained as a chronological paper trail of collection and transfers of specimens throughout the testing process. The paper trail is signed and dated by each person who handles the specimen, both when they receive the specimen into their own hands, and when they hand it off to the next person in the process. Less transfers of a specimen that need to be documented is better for the chain of custody overall. A well maintained and legal chain of custody begins at the time of specimen collection and continues uninterrupted until test results have been presented in court, if necessary.
There are several key elements of the chain of custody for alcohol and drug test samples that must be present when samples arrive at USDTL. First, the specimen container must be sealed with an intact security seal. Next, the sample must be accompanied by a Chain of Custody and Control Form with an identification number matching the number on the specimen container. The Chain of Custody and Control Form is the first piece of the chain of custody paper trail. Thirdly, the Chain of Custody and Control Form must be signed and dated by an authorized agent from the client. If one or more of these elements are missing, USDTL must return the sample to the client.
An unbroken chain of custody ensures sample integrity in several ways that preserve the legal usefulness of alcohol and drug testing results.
Chain of custody ensures that the original sample is the same as the one that is tested and ensures that the integrity of the sample is preserved during transport. Tampering, substitution, or alteration of the sample prior to being tested is prevented by the chain of custody process, which ensures thatit has been handled only by the donor, a qualified collector, and lab testing personnel.
Maintaining chain of custody for newborn samples destined for alcohol and drug testing is a simple process, but all those who handle a drug testing specimen need to be vigilant about the process nonetheless. Diligent maintenance of chain of custody is always in the child’s best interest. Unfortunately, it is only when the legal impact of an improperly maintained chain of custody is realized, that the full value of a well maintained chain of custody is understood. Ultimately, chain of custody protects the institution that is collecting the specimen, as well as the newborn whose health and well-being may rely on the results of a USDTL alcohol or drug test.
Reference: Giannelli, P. (1996). Forensic Science: Chain of Custody. Criminal Law Bulletin, 32(5), 447-465.
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