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Improving Evidence Management: Best Practices for Handling, Preservation, Retention, and Tracking

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)
Original Solicitation

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2017, $207,700)

A recent media report highlighted poor evidence management as critical factor that hinders post-conviction testing - “Lost and Improperly Destroyed Evidence Thwarts Post-Conviction DNA Testing” as reported in the Prison Legal News, April 2015. Reports on flawed testing of evidentiary material isn’t the only issue, there is the issue of misplaced, inappropriately stored and unjustly destroyed evidence. In order to obtain accurate and reliable results from forensic science analyses and measurements, it is imperative that each evidence item be properly maintained, and the chain of custody well documented, and the item can be located. Scientific research on the degradation of materials and state-of-the-art technologies in asset tracking can be very useful in improving forensic evidence management in law enforcement agencies. Implementing best practices in this area can help to ensure the availability of evidence for future analysis and potential release of those wrongfully incarcerated. NIST has led several projects to develop best practice guidelines and reports on evidence management for law enforcement agencies. Information about these projects can be here - https://www.nist.gov/topics/forensic-science/evidence-management.

The recent amendment to the Subtitle A of title IV of the Justice for All Act of 2004 has been amended to include a request for continued study in the areas of evidence preservation and retention best practices. The amendment also calls for the National Institute of Justice to “assist State, local, and tribal governments in adopting and implementing” the best practices developed as a result of the studies.

The forensic science community has long sought high-level, scientific guidance on the proper preservation of evidence for the purpose of strengthening America’s criminal justice system. This work will lead to recommendations that will improve the likelihood that forensic evidence will be properly preserved and retained.

Project Objectives/Deliverables

  • State of the Industry Report
  • Summary of survey of property and evidence (P&E) units (conducted by NIJ contractor with input from NIST staff)
  • Case studies/Vignettes of P&E room that have implanted new tracking technologies o Summary of evidence retention legislation o Summary of P&E room policies (partner with P&E Associations)
  • Recommendations and implementation strategy 
  • Evidence Management Symposium (2-3 day symposium on evidence management)
  • Digital Evidence Preservation and Retention Recommendations Report
  • Work with ASTM E30 committee to develop evidence labeling and data management systems standards
Date Created: December 15, 2020