MN Chain of Custody

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: Chain of Custody.

State of Minnesota v. Bashir Abdullahi Farah. MN Chain of Custody

On April 12, 2013, an agent of the Freeborn County sheriff's office purchased from Bashir Abdullahi Farah a 5.5 gram package containing a "white powdery substance" which tested positive for cocaine. Farah was then charged with second-degree sale of a controlled substance.

The agent sent the evidence to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which initially noted that the substance was "classified as crystalline material." A BCA scientist subsequently crossed out the word "crystalline" and replaced it with "rock-like." The evidence was returned to the sheriff's office and placed in an evidence locker.

Before trial, Farah moved to exclude the evidence on the grounds that the chain of custody was not established. A hearing was held, and the prosecutor initially argued that the issue was for the jury to decide. The Freeborn County District Court, Judge Ross L. Leuning, disagreed, and granted a continuance for the prosecutor to present a witness as to the chain of custody.

At the hearing, the prosecutor reiterated that he was not required to present a witness prior to trial, and cited an unpulbished decision to that effect, State v. Boyles, No. C5-92-2039, 1993 WL 129663 (Minn. App. Apr. 27, 1993), review denied (Minn. June 22, 1993).

The district court stated that it "asked for witnesses, not proffers," and granted the defendant's motion. The state then appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which affirmed.

The Court of Appeals held that the the question was properly a matter to be decided prior to trial, declining to follow the non-precedential Boyles case. It then held that the state had adequate notice of the hearing and that the district court had properly granted the motion.

No. A14-0541 (Minn. Ct. App. Sept. 29, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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