You may have heard of the term ‘chain of custody’ in reference to evidence in a criminal case. What this means, basically, is that law enforcement officials and prosecutors are required to prove that the evidence which they intend to use in court is the exact same thing which they allegedly discovered in connection with a potential crime. This requirement is intended to ensure that the evidence used in court is reliable. This can come up in cases where the prosecutor is pursuing drug charges, proving the chain of evidence is meant to avoid a situation where evidence may have been planted.

Often after an arrest and seizure of illegal drugs, the potential evidence is held by a police evidence officer. It is part of that officer’s duty to ensure that the evidence is not tampered with and is ready for trial. But in an ironic twist recently, a New Jersey police evidence officer has been charged with theft of cocaine that was meant to be held as evidence in other criminal cases.

The 47-year-old officer had served as the police department’s evidence officer since January of 2010. An investigation by law enforcement resulted in suspicions that he was taking cocaine for personal use from where it was being stored as evidence. Today it was announced that the officer has entered into a plea agreement to resolve the charges.

As part of the plea agreement the officer pled guilty to third degree official misconduct admitting that he had taken cocaine from the evidence vault. The officer will be sentenced to three years of incarceration, though he will be eligible for parole after two years. He will forfeit his police pension and be barred from holding any public job in New Jersey in the future.

Beyond the theft itself, this case is interesting because it calls into question the procedures employed by police departments to ensure that the purported evidence that they rely on when prosecuting criminal cases has been indeed handled properly during the investigation.

Source: NJToday.net, “Piscataway Police Officer Admits Drug Theft,” Jan. 5, 2011