1. #1
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    Post Photo Development and Chain of Custody Issues

    My Department takes our fire investigation film to an independent camera shop for development. The shop, in turn sends the film out to a lab for processing.

    My question is: Are there any chain of custody issues that I need to be concerned about should any of these cases go to court or deposition? Does the camera shop have to account for all persons who touch the film? Do I?

    Are there and legal cases handed down by the Courts that cover this issue?

    Thanks for any help given in this matter.

  2. #2
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    You're probably OK, but you should eliminate some steps, if you can. Do you have an actual photo lab in your town? If so, you should probably deal directly with them instead of a middle-man. I would be more worried about something getting lost than anything else. When I shoot at a fire scene, the first frame is a "title page". It shows the date, location, case number, photographers name, primary investigators name, and roll number for that incident. I then keep a log of every frame I shoot, including unintentional shots (I sometimes accidently trip the shutter while carrying the camera). I keep all the negs and all the prints, even the lousy ones. I feel that if you keep good records of what you've shot and and have the negs to back up your log, you're ok. I don't think who handles the development is an issue, as long as you can trust them not to make copies for thier friends.


    Bob, CFEI

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    You could be setting yourself up for a world of trouble. I teach the PA State Fire Academy class on Fire Photography which is based on the IFSTA manual.

    According to IFSTA you need to account for the film from the time you put it in your camera until the photos are offered as evidence in court.

    The simplest way to do this is to make up an affidavit on your company letterhead like this:
    "This film was processed with other customers' films without cutting, retouching or alterations of any kind and was returned on (date) to the person who brought it in."

    Have your processor fill in the date and sign it when you pick up the film. Keep the affidavit with the roll. If you transfer the photos and negs to anyone (police, D.A. Defense Lawyer) make sure you get a signed and dated receipt.

    If you're shooting B&W the best thing is to have your own lab and do everything yourself. If not, use the form and CYA.
    Steve Dragon
    FFII, Fire Instructor II, Fire Officer I, Fire Appartus Driver Operator Certified
    Volunteers are never "off duty".
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    Is using your local law enforcement photo developing system an option ?
    BE SAFE
    Before Everything, Stop And First Evaluate

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    Thanks to all who replied.

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    Cool chain of custody

    Krusty,

    Seems that I'm rather late here, so, I'll keep this brief.

    "Yes," chain of custody issues are questioned and challenged. The defense council in most of our cases challenged all evidence contamination and chain of custody issues, including the photographs.

    FD and PD use a local photo lab for film development, one that processes the film "in-house." An affidavit is obtained in each situation stating, whom was involved in that processing (we prefer that the processing tech take possession of the film and that they perform all procedures and personally return the photographs and negatives to our officers), a time/processing ledger, that no copies and/or retouching occurred and any other notations by the processing personnel. Also, officer's reports are strictly kept and all information concerning the chain of custody is logged as a redundancy.

    We haven't experienced any major testimony problems as of yet, probably in part because these procedures are followed and well documented. However, it is acutely obvious that this point of evidence is scrutinized by any defense attorney worth his/her salt and the potential exists to have your evidence (photos) dismissed.

    Remember, in a court of law, you don't have to answer any questions that are not directed, nor volunteer any information. I do not think that I would announce the fact concerning your photos being sent to an off premises lab for processing. Technically, your chain of custody has been breached. All procedures from that point are unaccounted for and subject to question, the couriers, the techs, the processes involved, the potential witness(s)and possible tampering of your evidence. I would think it hard for council to establish an actual fault, but, easier for them to raise a "reasonable doubt."
    Last edited by truckiedog; 02-17-2002 at 05:57 PM.
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