What is Chain of Custody? And How Businesses can use it?

What is Chain of Custody? And How Businesses can use it?

What is a Chain of Custody?

By definition, the chain of custody is the historical sequential paper trail that records the “when, why, how, and by whom” physical or electronic evidence is collected, handled, or analyzed. Under federal law, any item with a break in its chain of custody or is improperly documented is not admitted or shown to juries.

In the courtroom, the “Chain of Custody” is essential to the outcome of a case. There is a set of documentation initiated when evidence is collected and follows the evidence through the various stops and testing along the way. The documentation will note: who found the evidence, where, and every person who handled it, when, and what was done to it. For any evidence to be legally admitted to a court case, the custody chain must be clean and well-documented.

This description explains forensic evidence or other legal use of chain of custody documentation. But how could chain of custody be used in other types of businesses?

Chain of custody in the business world

You would be surprised to know that chain of custody documentation is a priority for many businesses. Chain of Custody is vital to governments, small businesses, associations, agencies, law enforcement, logistics service providers, and shippers.

The chain of custody is much like what a customer experiences are when purchasing a product online. The product is assigned a tracking number; this number is like a digital passport. At each stop along the way, the package gets stamped, and you can view your shipment’s progress in real-time. A chain of custody is a verifiable receipt that controls inventory from purchase through the point of sale to delivery.

Many businesses use a chain of custody documentation system to tackle supply management. In the dairy industry, it improves the traceability of food products, making it much easier to recall should there be a need to protect the public from possible salmonella contamination. Documentation travels with wood produced worldwide for building, furniture, or other uses by assuring that the trees are from sustainably managed sources. In the art world, it is referred to as provenance. Still, it keeps a record, timeline, and chronology of a historical object, who owned it, when it was sold, to whom, and where the item was located during its ownership. This type of documentation helps prevent some types of fraud or theft.

The ISO or International Standards Organization endorses the use of chain of custody documentation for taking control over supply chain management. In their estimation, it just makes sense to provide a “simple solution” to many issues in product development, production, and delivery. The ISO standardization of this practice and endorsement is designed “to help boost manufacturer and consumer confidence, reducing supply chain costs by addressing issues like risk, loss of time and conditions of production.”

What chain of custody can do for your business?

  • Create access for both public and private entities to document products or services.
  • Take better control over their inventory; products can be traced both physically and electronically.
  • Understand the supply line for ingredients, components, and final products.
  • Documenting the chronology of distribution lines will give a record for any disruption or loss.
  • Help develop solutions for any area that creates loss or negatively influences the product’s delivery, quality, or value.

Chain of Custody in Law enforcement

According to a study done in September 2020, a chain of custody is “the most critical process of evidence documentation.” Police want to keep the public safe, and there is far more work to arresting criminals than slapping on a pair of handcuffs.

When officers and investigators enter the crime scene, they gather evidence, complete all labels on the container and begin the chain of custody form to initiate constant tracking. Each box and label is designated its own unique identification code. All other relevant details are also included, such as location collected, date and time collected, and name of the person who found the evidence, along with a witness signature. Packages are sealed in such a way that they remain untouched using tamper-evident tape.

According to a chain of custody study, the information sheet included with a chain of custody report which most often consists of the following:

  • Unique identifier
  • Name and signature of the sample collector
  • Official address and contact number
  • Name of the recipient
  • Laboratory’s address
  • Details of each sample, including:
    • Unique identifier and matrix
    • Date and time of collection
    • Type of analysis required
  • Signatures of everyone involved in the chain of possession with date and time
  • Date and method of delivery
  • Authorization for the analysis of the sample
  • Any other information about the sample

Each sample or piece of evidence must have its own sheet or documentation filled out. The required details may seem far more straightforward than it is. The collection might be the easy part. The documentation will now need to demonstrate every transmission from the moment the evidence is collected and sealed until it reaches the courtroom for further examination. Each time evidence is handed off to another expert for analysis or study, it must be established that no one outside of this had any access to this evidence without authorization. Courts do not limit the number of transfers, as forensic evidence must often be tested and analyzed scientifically. However, it is still critical to keep the number as low as possible.

Is Chain of Custody as Critical to Businesses and Supply Chains?

When we think of a chain of custody as it applies to forensic evidence and serious court cases, the concept is critical – it is life and death to the accused who may be guilty or innocent. When you think of the food supply, it can also be as severe as life and death.

When companies use a quality chain of custody system to develop, create, and distribute products, it saves lives. Imagine how hard it would be to recall produce infected with salmonella if there was no way to determine where it was sent? Lives could be lost to food poisoning as expired foods remain on store shelves. If the ice cream that went bad came from a single plant without a chain of custody, the company would lose even more money by pulling their product nationwide. Yes, a chain of custody documentation for all businesses can be critical to safety and success.

No matter your type of business, everyone wants to be successful at what they do. Starting with a solid chain of custody documentation in your business plan and sticking to it throughout will help you stay on top of every aspect of your business, improve where you need, and gain a trusting customer base.