There are many police departments that are currently using narcotics analyzers to help fight the drug crisis. In fact, in a previously published blog article, we wrote about the Phoenix police department which approved a half million dollars’ worth of these high-tech devices to identify dangerous drugs and protect officers.
One challenge regarding drug arrests that law enforcement faces involves the Chain of Custody (CoC). The chain starts with the seizure of evidence and includes proper documentation of the evidence using a police case number, photographs, evidence number, defendant name, date and time.
When suspected drugs are seized from a defendant, a police officer will take custody of the drugs, package it in the proper evidence bag, and document the evidence before submitting it to a police evidence locker. The drug evidence officer will then take custody of the evidence and submit it to a lab for analysis. The lab technician will sign off on a drug receipt, documenting they took possession of said evidence. The forensic analyst will then take custody of the evidence for analysis. An analysis report is generated. Following analysis, the evidence is placed back in an evidence vault at the lab and is ultimately returned to the drug evidence officer. The drug evidence officer will return evidence to the police evidence locker and the drugs will remain there until the trial. On the day of the trial, the drug evidence officer will turn the drugs over to the arresting officer who takes the evidence to court and, ultimately, submits drugs into evidence during the trial. All these steps are documented.
A common defense strategy is to challenge the chain of custody. Any break in that chain can exclude the evidence from being introduced to the judge or jury, and ultimately lead to a dismissal of charges.
Many narcotics analyzers that police can use to identify the unknown substances utilize the well-established analytical technique called Raman spectroscopy – which can identify most key drugs of abuse as well as common cutting agents, precursors and emerging threats such as fentanyl, numerous fentanyl compounds including carfentanil, common street fentanyl analogs, pharmaceutical variants as well as the fentanyl precursors, NPP and ANPP.
Using this handheld narcotics analysis technology, one can scan directly through plastic or glass for most samples to minimize contamination, reduce exposure and preserve evidence. An officer can scan a sample and receive the result within seconds.
These analyzers can provide proper documentation in the CoC. A scan report can contain pertinent information that not only contains the analysis of a substance but also the information that is entered into the customized fields (case number, defendant name, description of seized drugs, who seized the drugs, who tested the drugs, and criminal charges). Additionally, the report can document the date and time of analysis, which is very helpful when criminal charges are brought forward.
In addition, the analyzers can be helpful with evidence audits for most drugs that require a direct scan or point-and-shoot scan through plastic. Once drugs are seized, they will be packaged in a heat-sealed plastic evidence bag. This bag is initialed across the seal and dated. After the drugs are analyzed from the lab, they are also sealed in the lab’s evidence bag. The only time this bag will be open is during a trial. The instrument could be used to analyze drugs within the sealed evidence bags, if tampering is suspected, to ensure drugs were not replaced with some other substance.
For more information read the white paper, TruNarc strengthens chain of custody