An unpublished opinion of the North Carolina Court of Appeals does not constitute controlling legal authority. Citation is disfavored, but may be permitted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 30(e)(3) of the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Proced ure.

NO. COA03-1173


Filed: 6 July 2004


    v.                            Durham County
                                No. 00 CRS 57076

    Appeal by defendant from judgment dated 26 February 2003 by Judge J.B. Allen, Jr. in Durham County Superior Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 15 June 2004.

    Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Assistant Attorney General Angel E. Gray, for the State.

    Brannon Strickland, PLLC, by Anthony M. Brannon for defendant- appellant.

    BRYANT, Judge.

    George Anthony Hunter (defendant) was found guilty on 26 February 2003 of selling and delivering cocaine and of possession with intent to sell and deliver cocaine. The trial court continued prayer for judgment on the conviction of possession with intent to sell and deliver cocaine. Defendant was sentenced within the presumptive range to an active term of a minimum of twenty months and a maximum of twenty-four months.
    The State presented evidence tending to show that on the afternoon of 22 May 2000, Officer Charles Davidson and Sergeant John Morris of the Durham Police Department participated in an undercover “buy-bust” operation near the Few Gardens apartment complex in the city. Traveling in a dump truck, the two officersapproached a large group of people standing on the corner of Alston Avenue and Morning Glory Avenue. A man, identified as defendant, “flagged [their] dump truck down.” Defendant approached the passenger side of the truck and asked the two officers, “[W]hat do you need?” Officer Davidson responded, “I need a twenty,” meaning crack or powder cocaine costing twenty dollars. Following defendant's instructions to drive down the street, the officers thereafter twice circled the block in their dump truck when defendant reappeared on a bicycle and approached to hand Officer Davidson a piece of crack cocaine in exchange for a twenty-dollar bill. The officers then gave a signal for another team of officers awaiting nearby to arrest defendant.
    At the police station, Officer Davidson placed the substance in a plastic bag, sealed it, signed his name, and recorded the date and time on the bag. He enclosed the bag inside a State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) drug evidence bag which he also signed and labeled. He thereafter sealed the SBI bag, attached it to a property report, and delivered it to the police department property room for transportation to the SBI laboratory for testing. Also, he completed an SBI-5 form requesting testing of the substance contained within the evidence bag. The bag was secured and transported to the SBI by Durham Police Department Property Custodian, Ruth Brown (Brown). Officer Davidson identified State's Exhibit 2 by his signature and initials as the bag that he deposited in the property room.
    Wendy Cook (Cook), a forensic chemist assigned to the SBIlaboratory, testified she received State's Exhibit 2 on 26 May 2000, accompanied by a form requesting examination of physical evidence, commonly known as the SBI-5 form. The SBI-5 form was signed by Brown; by SBI evidence custodian Roosevelt Riles (Riles); and SBI evidence technician Alice Green-Guy (Green-Guy). The SBI-5 form indicated that Riles received the evidence for the lab from Brown. Riles then released the evidence to Cook for forensic evaluation. After testing the substance, Cook returned the evidence to Green-Guy. Riles and Green-Guy also signed a chain of custody form maintained by the SBI which tracks when evidence is received; to whom it goes and on what date; and when it is returned to the sending agency. The SBI-5 form indicated that Green-Guy returned the evidence to Brown of the Durham Police Department. Cook's testing of the substance revealed that it was one-tenth of one gram of cocaine base.


    By his sole argument, defendant contends “[t]he trial court erred by denying his motion to dismiss on the ground that there was insufficient evidence of the chain of custody.” Defendant purports to challenge the admission of the cocaine into evidence on the ground the chain of custody was not adequately established.
    Before an item of real evidence is received into evidence, it must be established (1) that the item is the same as the one involved in the incident and (2) that the item has not undergone any material change. State v. Campbell, 311 N.C. 386, 388, 317 S.E.2d 391, 392 (1984). A detailed chain of custody of the item ofevidence need be established only when the proffered evidence is subject to alteration or is not readily identifiable, and reasonable belief exists that the item may have been altered. Id. at 389, 317 S.E.2d at 392. The standard of certainty required to show that an item is the same and is in an unchanged condition is within the trial court's discretion. Id. at 388-90, 317 S.E.2d at 392-93. “Any weak links in the chain of custody pertain only to the weight to be given to the evidence and not to its admissibility.” State v. Fleming, 350 N.C. 109, 131, 512 S.E.2d 720, 736 (1999). “A trial court may be reversed for an abuse of discretion only upon a showing that its ruling was so arbitrary that it could not have been the result of a reasoned decision.” State v. Wilson, 313 N.C. 516, 538, 330 S.E.2d 450, 465 (1985).
    Defendant argues the chain of custody is incomplete because Brown, Riles, and Green-Guy did not testify. As clearly indicated by our case law, these gaps go to the weight of the evidence, not its admissibility. Fleming, 350 N.C. at 131, 512 S.E.2d at 736; see, e.g., State v. Taylor, 332 N.C. 372, 375, 420 S.E.2d 414, 424 (1992); Campbell, 311 N.C. at 389, 317 S.E.2d at 392; State v. Carr, 122 N.C. App. 369, 374, 470 S.E.2d 70, 75 (1996); State v. Brown, 101 N.C. App. 71, 75, 398 S.E.2d 905, 909 (1990). Although these persons did not testify, their custody of the evidence is documented. Officer Davidson identified the evidence as the same he had seized from defendant and placed in the evidence bag for testing. Cook testified that the bag was sealed at the time she received it and that there had been no other opening of the bag byanybody else: After testing the material, she placed it into the bag and resealed it in a manner such that any tampering with the evidence did not occur. Further, she did not observe anything to indicate tampering, and declared the evidence was in the same condition as when she last saw it.
    Based upon the foregoing testimony, a court could reasonably conclude that the evidence was the same and materially unchanged. We therefore hold the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence. We find no error.
    No error.
    Chief Judge MARTIN and Judge McGEE concur.
    Report per Rule 30(e).

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