EMI Standards and Best Practices

Chapter 5 – Evidence Submission, Intake and Movement

Purpose: The evidence management intake process begins at the collection of the item in the field and includes the initial documentation, packaging, labeling and submission of the evidence for storage. During the intake process, and often immediately after submission, evidence may require further analysis or processing prior to long term storage. Similarly, a secure chain of custody begins at collection and must be maintained throughout the custody of evidence. Establishing sufficient intake, processing and movement protocols and procedures is critical to the integrity of the evidence and to ensure sustainable evidence operations.  Implementation and adoption of the Evidence Intake and Movement standards and practices recommended by the Evidence Management Institute promotes a stable organizational baseline for sustainable evidence management.


Scope: Evidence Submission and Intake Process Standards and Best Practices

Evidence Packaging Standards and Best Practices

Evidence Labeling Standards and Best Practices

Evidence Sealing Standards and Best Practices

Movement of Evidence Standards and Best Practices

Oversized Evidence Intake Standards and Best Practices


Definitions: Evidence Packaging. The method of protecting evidence from tampering, cross contamination and preparing the item for storage by sealing the item inside an evidence container; usually an envelope, box, and labeling the item for identification.

Evidence Submission. The process of documenting and preparing a collected item of evidence from collection in the field through transfer of custody to the evidence management unit.

Evidence Intake. The process of receiving, and documenting the receipt of, a submitted evidence item; assuming custody of the item and storing the item for the required duration of custody.

Evidence Movement. The process and documentation of location changes, custody changes, and handling of evidence items at each point for the entire duration of custody.

Oversized Evidence. Evidence items larger than approved or existing packaging can accommodate.

Chapter V. Evidence Submission, Intake and Movement

  1. Evidence Submission and Intake Process Standards
    1. Evidence Submission Process
      1. The evidence submission process:
        1. Begins with the collection of the item at the scene
        2. Through packaging and preparing the item for submission
        3. Providing complete evidence documentation regarding the item and
        4. Transferring custody of the item to the evidence management unit
    2. Evidence Submission Report
      1. The officer submitting evidence should prepare a detailed report regarding items submitted as evidence. For each item submitted, reports should document:
        1. Case information and related case information
        2. Crime or incident type
        3. Offense level
        4. Officer information
        5. Investigator information, if assigned and different than officer
        6. Suspect identifying and contact information
        7. Victim or owner identifying and contact information
        8. Offense or incident location
        9. Collection location information, if different from offense location
        10. Date and time of collection
        11. Item status: Evidence or Non-Evidentiary Property
        12. Detailed item description.
    3. Item Count and Quantity Definition
      1. To ensure consistent data for inventory, and intake and disposal analysis, the use of the term item should refer to the individual package, not the quantity contained inside the package. For example, a package submitted containing 400 ball bearings would be considered as one item for purposes of intake.
    4. Item Documentation and Description
      1. Items should be described sufficiently to specifically identify and individualize the item.  
      2. Item description should contain information related to:
        1. Item type
        2. Quantity
        3. Make, model, serial number information
        4. Color
        5. Individualized markings or unique features
        6. Condition
      3. The use of “miscellaneous”, “unknown” or other vague or generalized descriptors should be significantly limited or prohibited. If permitted, further review or inspection may be required.
    5. Evidence Submission Standards
      1. All items submitted to the evidence management unit should be documented and described.
      2. Submitting officers should provide sufficient documentation and all required information for submission.
      3. Items should be packaged, labeled and sealed in compliance with established evidence management unit procedures.
      4. Items submitted to the evidence management unit should be stored securely in a manner that prevents cross contamination with other evidence or evidence from multiple cases.
    6. Evidence Intake and Acceptance Standards
      1. All items submitted as evidence to the evidence management unit should be inspected by unit personnel to ensure compliance with documentation, packaging and submission requirements.
      2. Items not meeting standards should be rejected and returned for correction.
      3. Items in compliance should be documented as accepted and in the custody of the evidence management unit.
      4. Items requiring further analysis or processing should be documented and prepared for movement.
      5. Items accepted and ready for storage should be moved to the appropriate location and documented in the system.
  1. Evidence Submission and Intake Process Best Practices
    1. Correction Lockers
      1. Unless the evidence management unit is available during all hours of facility operations, it is recommended to provide a secure alternative to facilitate the efficient and timely correction of tasks related to improperly submitted evidence.
      2. Secure evidence correction or return lockers, accessible only to the assigned officer and evidence management unit personnel, provide officers working outside evidence management unit hours with access to make corrections as needed while maintaining secure chain of custody.
    2. Item Descriptors
      1. A good rule of thumb for determining the sufficiency of item description is to describe the item so that it could be identified from a lineup of other similar items. If provided descriptors fail to accomplish this standard, further or more specific description is warranted.
      2. It is a recommended practice to include additional data fields to record specific collection location details, beyond address location, to assist with future investigative efforts or analysis. For example, the collection location related to a bag of methamphetamine will likely include an address or street block as the collection location. A further collection descriptor, for example “driver side door panel” may prove useful.
      3. The use of controlled or pre-set descriptor menus for item type, weight, make, model and serial number and other descriptor data is highly recommended to ensure data consistency. Free-text descriptors make data analysis and research difficult due to the lack of consistency, accuracy or control of information.
    3. Submission Time Requirements
      1. It is a recommended practice to require all evidence collected to be properly submitted to the evidence management unhit prior to the end of shift.
  2. Evidence Packaging Standards
    1. Packaging Principles
      1. The appropriate packaging and labeling of evidence is critical to the integrity of evidence, preventing cross contamination or potential tampering, and preserving the evidence in the manner and condition in which it was submitted. Appropriate packaging and labeling of evidence is also a vital component for the efficient and effective evidence management operations.
    2. Packaging Manual
      1. Agencies should have a published packaging manual that provides clear instruction for packaging, labeling and sealing evidence submitted for storage.   
    3. Packaging Standards
      1. Agencies should establish packing requirements based on the most appropriate method and material for packaging evidence.
      2. Packaging methods should be consistent with forensic lab requirements.
      3. Evidence should be packaged using materials that will best preserve the evidence in the condition in which it was submitted.
      4. Evidence should be packaged in a manner that prevents cross contamination of evidence.
  1. Evidence Packaging Best Practices
    1. Packaging Material Selection
      1. Evidence management units should limit the number of packaging options available for packaging evidence for sustainable storage and organization of evidence. Most evidence can be submitted in:
        1. Envelopes. Consider limiting options to:
          1. Small envelopes (approximately 4”x 6”)
          2. Medium envelopes (approximately 8” x 10”)
          3. Large envelopes (approximately 10” x 13”)
        2. Paper Bags. Consider limiting options to:
          1. Small bag  (5” x 11” lunch bag or similar size)
          2. Medium bags (⅙ barrel size or similar size)
          3. Large bags (30 gallon lawn bag or similar size)
        3. Dimensional Cardboard Boxes
          1. Small (select by agency need and storage option)
          2. Medium (select by agency need and storage option)
          3. Large (select by agency need and storage option)
        4. Specialty or fixed use containers
          1. Gun boxes
          2. Knife boxes
          3. Heat seal tubing*
          4. Sharps containers
          5. Kraft paper wrapping
      2. Regardless of container type, all packaging materials should be constructed of materials durable enough to store the item for the entire duration of custody and strong enough to hold items without tearing or ripping under normal handling conditions.
      3. Packaging materials selected should conform to crime lab requirements and specifications.
      4. Evidence management units should plan packaging options based on the frequency and size of the most common item types handled by the unit.
      5. Evidence management units should avoid the use of extremely small packages, unless the items can be consistently packaged, labeled and stored in an organized manner.
    2. The use of sealed plastic packaging materials should be avoided for biological or metallic items, or for any item susceptible to oxidation or mold growth.
  2. Evidence Labeling Standards
    1. Labeling Standards
      1. The packaging manual should prescribe and define procedures for creating and placing labels for evidence packages.
      2. Evidence labels should be constructed from materials suitable for storage conditions that will not weather, fade or degrade for the duration of the custody of the evidence items.
      3. Evidence labels should be printed or written using materials that will remain legible for the duration of the custody of the evidence item.
      4. Evidence label adhesives or attachment mechanisms should affix labeling to the evidence package in a manner that will not become detached during storage.
      5. Evidence labels should not be applied directly to evidence items in a manner that will permanently deface or decrease the value or utility of the item.
      6. Evidence labels should contain sufficient information to identify the specific package using an agency defined control number.
      7. Packages containing biological evidence should be clearly labeled with a specific, permanent adhesive biological evidence label.
      8. Packages containing potentially hazardous evidence should be clearly labeled with a specific permanent adhesive hazardous evidence label.
  1. Evidence Labeling Best  Practices
    1. Printed Label Material Recommendations
      1. For long-term durability under multiple storage environments, the use of labels constructed of polypropylene stock is recommended.
      2. For long-term legibility under multiple storage environments, the use of resin ribbons and thermal transfer label printers is recommended.
      3. For long-term adhesion to packages, the use of labels with permanent adhesive is recommended.
  2. Evidence Sealing Standards
    1. Sealing Standards
      1. All evidence packages should be sealed at package or container openings using tape or similar materials to prevent unauthorized opening and detect tampering, unless an exception is provided by established procedure. Example: firearm evidence.
      2. Evidence packaging material with seams vulnerable to unauthorized or undetected opening should also be sealed using tape or similar materials.
      3. Evidence seals should be inscribed by permanent ink with the initials, identification number and packaging date of the person who packaged the evidence item.
      4. Evidence seal inscriptions should overlap tape or sealing material to detect attempted removal or replacement of evidence seals.
  1. Evidence Sealing Best Practices
    1. Sealing Material Recommendations
      1. The use of clear heavy-duty packaging tape is acceptable for sealing evidence packages.
      2. Box packaging should be securely sealed using clear heavy-duty packaging tape.
      3. Prior to filling box packaging, the bottom opening of the box should be sealed and initialed.
      4. The use of tamper-evident tape is recommended for sealing evidence packages as primary seal on light packaging and as an additional security seal on box packages.
      5. Sealed packages should be initialed and dated using permanent ink markers.
      6. When initialing evidence seals, ink on the package should be allowed to dry prior to handling.
  2. Movement of Evidence Standards
    1. Movement Types
      1. Documentation of evidence movement at each point in the chain of custody is critical to the integrity of evidence and the security and validity of chain of custody information. Movement of evidence includes all processing, analysis, location changes, transfers and release or disposal activity associated with the item. Evidence movement types include, but are not limited to:
        1. Collection
        2. Submission
        3. Intake Acceptance and Initial Processing
        4. Storage
        5. Location Changes
        6. Review during inspection, audit or inventory
        7. Temporary release and for correction
        8. Temporary release and return for lab processing or analysis
        9. Temporary release and return for court
        10. Temporary release and return for investigation
        11. Permanent release or return to owner
        12. Permanent release to court or other agency
        13. Disposition
    2. Movement Documentation
      1. Each movement of an evidence item should be documented in the chain of custody. Documentation should include:
        1. Who. Personnel or person names and identification numbers
        2. What. Document each specific item moved.
        3. When. Beginning and end dates and times of movement
        4. Where. Initial location and subsequent location.
        5. Why. Movement type.
        6. How. If applicable, method or mechanism of transport. Especially important if not delivered or received directly by or from evidence management unit.
        7. Authority and approval. For most external evidence movement, outside authorization and approvals should be required and documented.
    3. Movement Authorization
      1. Evidence management unit personnel should be authorized to move and document evidence items within the evidence management facility from intake and acceptance through disposition processing.
      2. Evidence management unit personnel should not be generally authorized to move evidence outside the evidence management facility for temporary release, transfer or disposition without additional authorization or by specific authorization through policy.
    4. Movement Accountability
      1. Evidence chain of custody documentation should not contain gaps in item history or custody. In the event that missing information is discovered during custody, evidence management unit personnel should research available sources to determine whether a significant issue exists and report discrepancies to supervision or through the chain of command.
  1. Movement of Evidence Best Practices
    1. Evidence Movement Recommendations
      1. Real-time update and documentation of chain of custody movement using automated technology is highly recommended over paper documentation.
      2. Additional technology, including mobile devices and wireless barcode scanners may be required to facilitate real-time movement documentation.
  2. Oversized Evidence Intake Standards
    1. Oversized Evidence Packaging and Labeling
      1. Some evidence or non-evidentiary property submitted for storage may not fit in existing approved packaging types. These items may be submitted without packaging or sealing.
      2. Unpackaged oversized evidence should be labeled and have the label attached to the item using a zip tie or other semi-permanent mechanism that will keep the label attached to the item for the entire duration of custody without damaging or defacing the evidence item.
      3. Oversized evidence requiring forensic analysis or believed to contain probative forensic evidence should be packaged, labeled and sealed to prevent cross contamination or tampering. This may be accomplished by wrapping the item using kraft paper or other suitable large format packaging material.
    2. Oversized Evidence Submission Area
      1. Oversized evidence will not likely fit in general temporary evidence submission lockers. The evidence management unit should provide an area or other provision for the secure submission of oversized evidence.
  1. Oversized Evidence Intake Best Practices
    1. Oversized Evidence Recommendations
      1. Other evidence item types may be submitted in addition to oversized evidence items. The evidence management unit should provide specific guidance on item types that may be submitted without packaging.
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