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Criminal – Chain Of Custody – Cocaine

Although there were some apparent discrepancies between the arresting officer’s description of the “evidence bag containing baggie with six off-white rocks” sent to the lab, and the one “small ziplock plastic bag” with “four knotted plastic bags” with an off-white substance, that was returned with the certificate of analysis, defendant did not demonstrate a break in the chain of custody that would require the Court of Appeals to overturn his conviction for possession of cocaine.

Defendant argues that the striking differences between the officer’s description of the evidence he submitted for testing and the description of the evidence that was included in the certificate of analysis demonstrate a break in the chain of custody.

In the present case, all the identifying features on the request for laboratory examination form and the certificate of analysis, with the exception of the description, match. The request for laboratory examination form and the certificate of analysis coincide to connect the data analyzed and subject of the certificate to the evidence retrieved by the officer.

Further, defendant’s argument regarding a discrepancy between the number of pieces submitted for testing and the number of pieces tested was disposed of by the trial court. The judge, having had the opportunity to observe the witnesses and the physical evidence, determined there was in fact no discrepancy in the number of pieces of cocaine.

We acknowledge that at one point the officer agrees that he doesn’t recognize “the way it was packaged” and that “it’s not what [he] sent [to the lab].” However, when taken in the proper context, it is clear the officer was not saying that the evidence was different; rather, he was saying the packaging that the laboratory used to send the evidence back to him was different from the packaging he used to send the evidence to the laboratory. Such changes in the packaging are to be expected, as it is axiomatic that the laboratory will have to open the sealed evidence bag and then re-seal it in the course of conducting the requested tests.

The evidence sent contained “knotted bags” and the evidence returned contained “knotted bags.” In light of all the other evidence, the fact that the descriptions do not match exactly is insufficient to prove the evidence seized was different from the evidence tested. Defendant has offered nothing more than speculation that the evidence analyzed by the lab was not the same evidence seized at the time of his arrest.

Cocaine possession conviction affirmed.

Herndon v. Commonwealth (Powell, J.) No. 1393-08-3, May 26, 2009; Martinsville Cir.Ct. (Milam) S. Jane Chittom, AD, for appellant; Rosemary V. Bourne, AAG, for appellee. VLW 009-7-234(UP), 7 pp.

VLW 009-7-234

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