Beth Fleet leads a three-person team in the Duval County Clerk of Courts office that stores, catalogs and maintains evidence used in concluded felony trials.
When you think about the Duval County Clerk of Courts, you probably think of it as the location where official records are executed and stored or where you go to apply for a marriage license, file a lawsuit or pay a traffic fine.
Another, little known, service provided by the clerks’ office is the storage and preservation of evidence used in courtrooms.
It can be as simple as a chart an attorney used to demonstrate a fact of a case to a jury, or as complex as the clothing worn by a murder victim or a set of tires removed from a vehicle that was used in commission of a crime.
“Every time you see the news or look at the paper, there’s somebody out there doing something wrong. We have a continual flow of evidence coming in. It’s paper evidence and physical evidence – anything that was used as evidence in the case,” said Beth Fleet, senior manager for the Clerk of Courts evidence and records management department.
Fleet and two assistants maintain the court’s collection of evidence, some of which has been stored in secured areas of the Duval County Courthouse for decades.
“It depends on the length of the sentence. In a life case or a death case, we hold onto it until the defendant is no longer with us,” Fleet said. “The majority of the evidence is kept for three years to 50 years. It depends on the crime.”
Each item is entered into the clerk’s case management system, along with the documents related to the case.
Some of the collection has been stored since the courthouse was at Adams and Ocean streets, but when there’s a request to view a specific piece of evidence, or if a case is appealed, Fleet and her staff know where it is and can make it available.
“We have an old case from 1975. An investigator from the State Attorney’s Office got a court order for one particular piece of evidence. They want to do DNA testing because it may prove that the person who was convicted of that crime was not the perpetrator after all. It’s kind of a reverse cold case,” Fleet said.
“I find that fascinating and it’s like justice being served after all this time,” she added.
Fleet said what she does every day is quite different from her previous job. Before she went to work in the clerk’s office in 2016, she was for 11 years the custodian of candidate records at the Supervisor of Elections Office.
“We’re dealing with personal items that were important to people and their families. It’s the end of the line for that item, so we take care of it and preserve it properly. We make sure we handle the evidence in a reverent way,” she said.