News has broken in Beckley this week that the prosecuting attorney will be dismissing any drug-related cases involving evidence kept in the property room of the Beckley Police Department in the past 15 months. Kristen Keller, Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney, has admitted that police notified her that in some drug cases there were drugs missing from evidence.
During a press conference, Beckley Police Chief Tim Deems stated that the technician responsible for the evidence room at the Beckley Police Department went on medical leave late last week. The problem was discovered last week and an inventory of evidence for all cases is being conducted.
The first case effected was dismissed Wednesday morning. This has the ability to effect hundreds of cases, and not just cases that are currently pending, but also those which have resulted in convictions or guilty pleas over the last 15 months.
The reason that so many cases can be compromised is due to the fact that the chain of custody of the evidence has been broken. The chain of custody of evidence is essential in order to convict a person. The state has to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the item of evidence is what they say it is. If the evidence system has been breached, then the state cannot prove that the particular item has not been tampered with or even switched. This is particularly important when dealing with drug cases where they state must be able to prove that the drugs are in what they contend they are. Who is to say now that the drugs have not been tampered with?
Unfortunately, this type of incident is not uncommon around the country. Everyday I read headlines about police evidence being tampered with or crime labs falsifying evidence. I do have to commend Ms. Keller for bringing this situation to light and not trying to sweep it under the rug as it seems it is commonly done around the country.
Keep watching our site for updates to this situation as they arise.