EMI Standards and Best Practices

Chapter 10 – Evidence Retention and Disposition

Purpose: One of the most critical aspects of evidence management balances the effective retention of evidence with the efficient disposition of evidence after the expiration of the required retention period.  Evidence submitted and stored in the custody of the evidence operation must be preserved and retained for the required duration of custody; however, without effective disposition processes evidence operations will quickly accrue excessive storage volume which impacts operational effectiveness and capacity. Implementation and adoption of the Evidence Retention and Disposition standards and practices recommended by the Evidence Management Institute promotes a stable organizational baseline for sustainable evidence management.


Scope: Evidence Retention Standards and Best Practices

Evidence Disposition Standards and Best Practices


Definitions: Evidence Retention. The practice of storing evidence for the entire duration of required custody. For the purpose of this chapter, the term evidence should be read to also include non-evidentiary property.

Disposition. The practice of removing evidence, with required authorizations and approval from the custody of the evidence management unit.

Statute of Limitation. State law(s) which define and set time deadlines for filing civil actions or criminal cases.


Chapter X. Evidence Retention and Disposition

  1. Evidence Retention Standards
    1. Retention Statement
      1. Evidence items should be retained in the custody of the evidence management for the entire duration of the item’s required duration of custody until receipt of approval and authorization for the permanent transfer, temporary release, or final disposition of the item is received and documented.
      2. The appropriate retention of evidence is critical to all stakeholders in the justice system and essential to the equitable application of justice. Failure to retain evidence for the required duration of custody denies justice to victims and the innocent, and may result in the acquittal of suspects who have actually committed alleged offenses.
      3. The required duration of custody for evidence items is contingent on:
        1. State law, including statutes of limitation and evidence retention statutes
        2. Local policies, which may include policies of local law enforcement agency, policies of associated courts of record and prosecuting attorney offices
        3. Case and associated case investigative status
        4. Case and associated case adjudication status
        5. Offender term of sentence
        6. Offender term of appeals
        7. Identification of unknown offenders
        8. Receipt of approval for disposition from authorized investigator
        9. Receipt of any required judicial authorization for disposition
  1. Evidence Retention Best Practices
    1. Retention Status
      1. Items considered retained are all items stored as evidence or non-evidentiary property by the evidence management unit, whether in actual physical custody at the evidence management facility or in secure, temporary custody at external locations such as forensic laboratories, remote, secure electronic storage, financial institutions, or other external temporary locations.
    2. Retention Periods and Relief
      1. Many states have enacted legislation that increases the required evidence retention time for biological evidence.
      2. Some states have enacted legislation that reduces the retention burden of evidence storage, these may include provisions:
        1. Permitting evidence sample storage of bulk narcotics evidence
        2. Permitting photographic evidence of theft evidence
        3. Providing state-funded remote storage of biological evidence
        4. Providing short term storage requirements for non-evidentiary property
        5. Otherwise limiting retention periods for evidence
      3. Agencies should consider all retention options to promote sustainable evidence management operations.
  2. Evidence Disposition Standards
    1. Disposition Statement
      1. Evidence items should be efficiently removed from the custody of the evidence management unit after the expiration of the required duration of custody of the evidence item upon documented receipt of authorization and approval for disposition.
      2. With few exceptions, efficient and effective disposition practices and processes are a required component of sustainable evidence management operations.
        1. Agencies prohibited by law, and accompanied with expandable or non-exhaustive storage resources may achieve acceptably sustainable evidence management operations.
      3. Systematic failure to dispose of eligible evidence may result in storage capacity, organization and sustainability issues for evidence management operations.
    2. Disposition Authorization Authority
      1. Evidence management personnel generally act exclusively as custodians and caretakers of stored evidence and should not be responsible for the approval or authorization for disposal of evidence.
      2. Disposition authorization and authorization should be the directed responsibility of the case investigator, evidence submitting personnel or investigative supervisor.
      3. Balancing disposition responsibilities appropriately prevents the systematic likelihood of premature disposition of evidence.
      4. Limited authority, based on published agency policy and procedures, to dispose of non-evidentiary property may be granted to evidence management personnel at the discretion and direction of the executive leadership of the agency.
  1. Evidence Disposition Best Practices
    1. Optimal Disposition Rates
      1. The optimal rate of evidence disposition for sustainable evidence management is indexed to the equivalent rate of evidence intake. Ideally, evidence management operations should dispose of evidence items at a 1:1 ratio to intake items annually.
      2. Optimal rates, or disposition targets or goals, should not be considered as factors for approving the disposition of evidence. Approvals for disposition should be independently and exclusively based on the disposition eligibility of the evidence item.
      3. Evidence management units do not control the quantity or type of evidence submitted, or severity of cases filed associated with submitted evidence; disposition rates should not be considered as an absolute value.
      4. Disposition rates lower than 0.75:1 (disposal to intake) ratios can create long-term systematic storage and sustainability issues for evidence management operations.
    2. Disposition System Threshold Mechanisms
      1. To ensure a continual disposition process for evidence management, the evidence management should schedule planned disposition processes at regular intervals for:
        1. General evidence disposition
        2. Currency evidence disposition
        3. Firearms evidence disposition
        4. Narcotics evidence disposition
        5. Non-evidentiary property disposition
      2. Intervals should be contingent on levels of evidence eligible for disposition, but at a minimum, should be planned annually to prevent excessive buildup of evidence in storage.
    3. Dispositions, Time Allotted
      1. Evidence management units should schedule dedicated time each week to focus on disposition processes and research.
    4. Disposition Notifications and Approval
      1. Generally, it is the responsibility of the evidence management unit to provide notification to investigators of the potential disposition eligibility of evidence items.
      2. Notifications or requests for disposition approval for evidence items should be routinely communicated and documented by the evidence management unit.
      3. Ideally, evidence management software solutions can automatically facilitate notification based on pre-determined eligibility criteria for each item and associated crime type.
      4. To facilitate efficient responses, notification requests provide sufficient and specific case and item information related to the disposition request, and should ideally contain preliminary research findings related to disposition eligibility.
      5. Responses to notifications should be tracked, documented and include a response deadline.
      6. Non-responses to notification should be escalated to next-level supervision or management until a final response is received and documented.
      7. Notifications should provide clear instruction and documentation of approval responses from the investigator.
      8. Notification should provide controlled, unambiguous responses to requests for disposition or continued retention.
      9. Responses requesting continued retention should document:
        1. Date for next review or follow-up notification
        2. Approved reason for continued retention
      10. Supervisory authorization for continued retention for items beyond the required duration of retention may be advisable to prevent continued arbitrary retention request responses.
    5. Disposition Eligibility Research and Research Training
      1. Research procedures, eligibility criteria and documentation methods should be established for determining the disposition eligibility for evidence items.
      2. Evidence management unit personnel and all evidence submitting personnel should be capable of documenting and determining the disposition eligibility based on established procedures and criteria.
      3. All personnel responsible for determining disposition eligibility or approving disposition should be trained to research, determine disposition eligibility and document research findings.
      4. Disposition research generally requires complex investigation into:
        1. Expiration of limitation statutes for unfiled cases.
        2. Adjudication of filed cases.
        3. Identification of all suspects
        4. Associated or affiliated case status
        5. State evidence retention laws
      5. Disposition research generally requires examination of case file records, court records and state statutes to determine eligibility.
      6. Final approval for certain evidence types may require a court order for final disposition approval.
    6. Disposition and Evidence Status Change
      1. Some case evidence, upon approval for disposition, may require a change in status from evidence to non-evidentiary property and require the return of the item(s) to a documented owner.
    7. Disposition Procedural Recommendations
      1. Disposition processes should include provisions requiring the presence of two persons to process and prepare items for disposition.
      2. Witnesses or documented observers are highly recommended for all evidence disposals.
      3. Video recording of disposal processes is a highly recommended practice.
    8. Final Disposition Methods
      1. Final general evidence disposal methods include:
        1. Physical Destruction and Disposal
        2. Auction or Sale
        3. Conversion to Agency Use
        4. Return to Owner
      2. Special Handling Items Disposition
        1. See Chapter 8: Special Handling Considerations for evidence disposition related to firearms, narcotics, currency and biological evidence.
    9. Physical Destruction and Disposal Considerations
      1. Disposition of items by means of physical destruction and disposal should require:
        1. Rendering items to a condition that prevents future use or sale.
        2. Removal of associated agency identification, packaging and labeling.
        3. Disposal in secure refuse or recycling containers that prevent access or removal prior to collection.
    10. Auction or Sale Disposal Considerations
      1. Disposition of items by means of auction or sale should require:
        1. Established auction or sale policies and procedures, compliant with state statutes,
        2. Signed agreement with external vendors,
        3. Removal of all electronic or physical identifying information from the item,
        4. Preparation of a manifest detailing all items released for sale or to an external vendor
        5. Documentation for approval or authorization by disposition through sale or auction,
        6. Documentation of disposition upon release to sale agent or auction vendor.
        7. Provision for deposit of funds from auction or sale based on agreement to appropriate account.
        8. Provision limiting or preventing the return of items to the evidence management unit.
    11. Conversion Disposal Considerations
      1. Disposition of items by means of conversion to agency use should require:
        1. Established conversion policies and procedures, compliant with state statutes,
        2. Approval by order of the chief executive,
        3. Conversion of status by court order,
        4. Provisions for authorized, acceptable or intended use
        5. Provisions for accountability and identification of converted property,
        6. Provisions for final disposal at the end of expected item service life.
      2. Unless provisions exist that prescribe future disposal by the unit awarded of the converted item, items disposed by conversion are often quasi-disposed and may return to the evidence management unit for final disposal.
      3. A record of all awarded or otherwise converted evidence items should be maintained by the agency and audited annually.
    12. Return to Owner Disposal Considerations
      1. Disposition of items by means of return to owner should require:
        1. Established return policies and procedures, compliant with state statutes and court orders,
        2. Notification to owner to retrieve property,
        3. Appropriate documentation of return to owner.
    13. Disposition Security
      1. Evidence items approved for disposition, and being processed for disposal should be stored under high security conditions.
    14. Disposition Prohibitions
      1. Agency employees should be prohibited from possessing, retrieving or otherwise obtaining evidence disposed of by the evidence management unit, unless acting in an official capacity with items converted to agency use.
    15. Disposition Documentation
      1. Evidence items should never be documented as disposed prior to the completion of actual disposal.
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