What happens if the chain of custody is broken?
In the 2016 Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer, one of the most electrifying and pivotal scenes for many viewers is the discovery, by Steven Avery’s defense attorney Jerry Buting, that a vial of Avery’s blood has what looks like a puncture hole in the seal.
You can see the elation and downright glee on Buting’s face as he speaks on the phone to someone from Avery’s defense team. Suddenly, the defense that Steven Avery was framed by the police department, or members thereof, doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
If you haven’t seen Making a Murderer, I highly recommend it. It’s the story of Steven Avery from Manitowoc County, Wisconsin. He was in jail for the rape of Penny Beernsten and was exonerated in 2003 by DNA evidence. Then, in 2007, he was convicted of a murdering Teresa Halbach.
Avery says he didn’t commit the murder. He was put back in prison.
The first time, he was unlawfully imprisoned for 18 years. This time, it’s hard to say how long he may spend in prison.
Plausible Case for Innocence
The documentary makes a very plausible case for his innocence in the murder of Teresa Halbach. She was an amateur photographer who had been at his house taking photos of a car he was planning to sell.
The reason the vial of blood was so important is compelling. Steven Avery’s blood should not have been accessible by anyone without clear, documented writing of whom and when and for what reason. In fact, the vial of blood was in a plain box which had been stacked with other boxes out in the open in an office area for years.
This area was easily and privately accessible to several members of the police department in question. All it would have taken to access this blood is a key to this office, which several members in question had.
The fact that the vial of blood had a puncture in it could explain why Avery’s blood was found in two locations in Teresa Halbach’s car. At least, it could give the defense a reasonable explanation that someone had planted the blood to frame Avery.
The prosecution used this blood evidence as a major piece in their case against Avery. And, of course, they won.
Chain of Custody
One of the things most important to any criminal investigation is a chain of custody for any piece of evidence collected by law enforcement officers. It should include the order of the places where and persons with whom the physical evidence was located from the time it was collected right up until its appearance in front of a judge and jury at trial.
That way, if something goes wrong or someone is called into question – like in the trial of Steven Avery – there is a clear, written description of where the evidence has been. This also makes the evidence easy to identify later.
Chain of custody begins with the collection of items at a crime scene. The investigator or the technician will collect items and label them. This labeling is witnessed. In addition, law enforcement must maintain unbroken control over evidence or else the credibility of the evidence could be called into question.
Unfortunately for Steven Avery, his jury was not inclined to believe the vial of blood had been tampered with. The puncture mark didn’t introduce a reasonable doubt as to his guilt. For defense attorney Jerry Buting and many of Avery’s advocates, this adds up to a miscarriage of justice.
If you believe you are the victim of evidence tampering, you need an experienced defense attorney by your side. Please call me office today.