Chain of custody is a concept in jurisprudence which applies to the handling of evidence.
Because evidence can be used in court to convict persons of crimes, it must be handled in a scrupulously careful manner to avoid later allegations of tampering or misconduct.
An identifiable person must always have the physical custody of a piece of evidence. In practice, this means that a police officer or detective will take charge of a piece of evidence, document its collection, and hand it over to an evidence clerk for storage in a secure place. This transaction, and every succeeding transaction between the collection of the evidence and its appearance in court, should be completely documented.
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Compare with: provenance