The Gainesville Sun,
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Alachua County, FL

Who has been watching the watchers in the Alachua County Sheriff's Office evidence room?

It's disturbing that the question even has to be asked. There are few things more crucial to the working of the criminal justice system than preserving the integrity of the "chain of evidence" in prosecutions.

But with one former ASO custodian facing criminal charges for theft and a supervisor having resigned in the wake of allegations that evidence had been routinely mishandled, mislabeled, unlabeled or gone missing, Sheriff Sadie Darnell's administration faces a crisis of credibility.

Any number of defense attorneys are now left to wonder if perhaps their clients were convicted on the basis of unsecured evidence. If convictions are subsequently overturned because the chain of evidence has been fractured, that crisis will only deepen.

ASO's investigation into problems with evidence handling reportedly began two years ago, after Waldo Police Chief Mike Szabo was unable to retrieve cash being held at ASO. A subsequent inventory found 205 missing items (only 77 of them ultimately accounted for) and numerous documentation problems.

Sheriff Darnell says that the security problems in the evidence room have been "identified, investigated thoroughly and changes made to the way business was conducted." That's fine, but the integrity of ASO's custodianship of evidence has been breached; to exactly what extent we do not yet know.

A formal outside investigation, perhaps by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, would seem to be in order.

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International Association for Property and Evidence
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