Massive Mishandling of Evidence
Orange County (California) Sheriff Don Barnes, is facing a major crisis. Thanks to the excellent investigative work by the The Orange County Register, it was discovered that two different internal audits were done and both showed that deputies failed to process evidence they said they had turned in or sat on evidence before eventually turning it in. According to the Sacramento Bee,
“of more than 98,000 reports that showed nearly 30 percent of all evidence collected by deputies was mishandled in violation of department policy; that nearly three-quarters of deputies filed evidence in six to 10 days instead of the end of a deputy’s shift per policy; and that some evidence was not booked for a month or longer. “
Chain of Custody
When evidence is collected the chain of custody is documented. This shows every time the evidence changed hands. So, an officer collects evidence. He logs it, bags it, and turns it into the the agency’s evidence room. They document receiving it. If someone needs to view the evidence they must log it out, then back in when they are finished with it. If evidence is left laying around in a desk drawer it can pick up particles from the environment it’s in. If anyone handles it, they can obliterate fingerprints and possibly add their own, again, rendering the evidence unusable. Then there’s the possibility of cross-contaminating evidence. If a bloody knife is found and it is placed with the clothes that were taken from a suspect, blood particles from the knife could get on the clothes making it appear that there is a connection.
Fight Between D.A. and Sheriff
This situation has caused a rift between the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff Barnes. Sheriff Barnes feels the situation is being made to look worse than it is. District Attorney Todd Spitzer wants to find out who was impacted by the mishandled information. According to D.A. Spitzer (as printed by the Sacramento Bee),
“In order to fulfill my legal and ethical obligations as District Attorney, I need to know which cases, if any, were filed by my office where (Orange County Sheriff’s Department) failed to book evidence after collecting it. My goal is to identify any and all cases handled by (Orange County District Attorney’s Office) where a defendant’s due process rights may have been negatively impacted by having evidence collected but not booked.”
No matter how you look at it, the trust the citizens of Orange County had placed in their legal system has been destroyed. Innocent people could have been sentenced to jail. Guilty people are probably going to be released. Massive amounts of money used to investigate and prosecute the cases, will have been wasted. And trust in the system has been severely damaged, all because of the poor work ethics of one agency. It’s going to take a long time for them to regain their reputation after this.