Attorney Anne Wedge-McMillen Discusses Issues of Evidence in Florida

The news reports regarding the tampering with prescription pill evidence by an FDLE analyst should raise concern with the chain of custody and security of all types of evidence analyzed by FDLE. On Friday, January 31st, I attended a continuing legal education seminar hosted by the Florida association of criminal defense attorneys regarding the newly adopted change in Florida law in introducing expert testimony known as the Daubert standard. During this training one of the emphases was the Florida legislature’s intent in proposing this new standard to exclude pure opinion testimony from experts and requiring the proponent of the evidence to establish the scientific method behind expert opinions. More importantly, the expert must establish how that method was applied to the specific facts of the case in which the opinion is being rendered.

Florida law only requires the state to prove the purity of the chain of custody of evidence (from its seizure by police to deposit into evidence lockers to expert analysis and back to evidence) when there is suspicion that the evidence has in some way been tainted. Intentional mishandling of evidence like that reported this weekend in the drug evidence section of FDLE is an example of tainted evidence. Yet mixing evidence recovered at multiple crime scenes, improperly documenting all individuals who handle the seized evidence, inadequate lab resources as simple as old cameras with insufficient zoom power to identify microscopic evidence, are also all issues that can and should be raised by the accused in cases where physical evidence may result in the accused being sentenced to life in prison or even death.
Today’s reports of evidence tampering should serve as a powerful reminder that our job as criminal defense attorneys is to zealously represent our clients and to make sure the evidence being used against them is accurate reliable and untainted.