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United States v. Howard-Arias

    Brief Fact Summary. Appellant was arrested for various drug charges after the marijuana was discovered aboard his wrecked ship. The Coast Guard retrieved the marijuana after the ship sank, and Appellant challenges the chain of custody for admitting the evidence.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Tangible evidence must be authenticated prior to be admitted.

    Facts. Appellant was indicted for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, conspiracy to distribute, and with intent to import marijuana into the United States. Appellant was on a fishing ship when it became disabled. They were rescued and units of the United States Coast Guard arrived and boarded the disabled ship. A large quantity of marijuana was discovered. The Coast Guard attempted to tow the ship to shore but it sank. Two hundred forty bales of the marijuana was recovered. Appellant argues that the government failed to establish a “continuous chain of custody.”

    Issue. Was the authentication testimony offered by the government adequate?

    Held. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court in holding that the authentication testimony was sufficient to proved that the evidence was what it purported to be, which was marijuana seized from Appellant’s ship.

    Discussion. The government had everyone in the chain of custody testify except for the special agent who received the marijuana from the Coast Guard to transport to the DEA. The Court of Appeals notes that a missing link in the chain does not necessarily prevent admission as long as the testimony is sufficient to determine that the evidence is what is purports to be.


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