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United States v. Grant - 967 F.2d 81 (2d Cir. 1992)

Rule:

Fed. R. Evid. 901 requires as a condition precedent to admissibility a showing, by a preponderance of evidence, that the thing offered is what its proponent claims it to be. A break in the chain of custody will not necessarily lead to the exclusion of the evidence. Rather, the ultimate question is whether the authentication testimony is sufficiently complete so as to convince the court that it is improbable that the original item had been exchanged with another or otherwise tampered with.

Facts:

Grant was convicted of conspiracy to import heroin, importation of heroin, and possession of heroin with intent to distribute it in violation of 21 U.S.C.S. §§ 841(a)(1), 952(a), and 963. Grant and a traveling companion were found with packages containing a substance that field-tested positive for heroin. A government chemist testified that the packages contained heroin. Grant sought review of the judgment and asserted that the government failed to prove that the white powder found on her traveling companion was heroin. Grant insisted that the government failed to establish chain of custody over the packages from the time they were seized at the airport until the time they were tested in the laboratory by the government's chemist. The evidence introduced at trial only indicated that the packages were signed out of an airport vault on and not signed into the Drug Enforcement Agency's laboratory. There is nothing in the record to indicate what happened to the packages in the interim. From this lapse, Grant contends that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the laboratory tested the same substance that Kirven carried to the airport.

Issue:

Did the government fail to prove that the white powder found on Grant’s traveling companion was heroin?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

On appeal, the Court affirmed the judgment of the district court. The government did not establish an airtight chain of custody over the packages from the time they were seized at the airport until the time they were tested in the laboratory by the government's chemist, but that was not necessary, as the government did not offer the drugs themselves into evidence. The government presented the testimony of the chemist who analyzed the packages. Defendant did not argue that the testimony of the chemist should have been excluded. While the chain of custody proof was not airtight and the government's case ultimately rested on inferences, a reasonable jury could have found that the packages contained heroin. Without the lab test, there was not sufficient evidence from which any reasonable jury could find that the packages contained heroin.

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