Destruction of Evidence

Favorable and Noteworthy Decisions in the Supreme Court and Federal Appellate Courts

United States v. Zaragoza-Moreira, 780 F.3d 971 (9th Cir. 2015)

The defendant was charged with smuggling drugs across the border. She explained to the Border agent who arrested her that she acted under duress and that she was standing on line with the person who was coercing her and did everything she could to attract the attention of the guards. The Border agent then allowed the videotape of the people in line to be destroyed. This was more than simply negligence or recklessness. The acted in bad faith and violated the defendant rights to due process.

United States v. Plavcak, 411 F.3d 655 (6th Cir. 2005)

It is a federal crime to destroy evidence that is subject to seizure. 18 U.S.C. § 2232. In order to prosecute a person for committing the offense, the government must prove that there was either a valid warrant authorizing the seizure of the evidence, or an applicable warrant exception that would have resulted in the seizure of the evidence.

United States v. Barton, 995 F.2d 931 (9th Cir. 1993)

The government’s destruction of evidence prior to an evidentiary hearing on a motion to suppress (alleging a Franks v. Delaware violation) must be analyzed under the principles of Brady and Arizona v. Youngblood to determine if the defendant’s right to due process has been violated. Thus, if the evidence was exculpatory – in the sense of supporting the Franks violation – and the government acted in bad faith in destroying the evidence, a due process violation might be found.

United States v. Cooper, 983 F.2d 928 (9th Cir. 1993)

The DEA busted a home laboratory, believing that methamphetamine was being produced. Immediately after the equipment was seized, the defendant contacted the DEA and explained that it was not Meth, but an AIDS cure which the defendants were manufacturing. The DEA said the equipment was being kept for evidence, but the agents actually knew that the equipment was being destroyed. An expert for the defense testified that if the lab were configured as described by the defense, then methamphetamine could not have been the product. Because of the exculpatory nature of the destroyed evidence, as well as the bad faith conduct of the government, the only appropriate remedy was the dismissal of the indictment.

United States v. Bohl, 25 F.3d 904 (10th Cir. 1994)

Despite the defendants’ repeated efforts to obtain access to critical evidence in this case, the government destroyed the evidence. The prosecution was barred by the due process clause. In California v. Trombetta, 467 U.S. 479 (1984), the Court held that the government violates a defendant’s right to due process when it destroys evidence whose exculpatory significance is “apparent before” destruction and the defendant remains unable to obtain comparable evidence by other reasonably available means. In Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51 (1988), the Court extended Trombetta to provide that, if the exculpatory value of the evidence is indeterminate and all that can be confirmed is that the evidence was “potentially useful” for the defense, then a defendant must show that the government acted in bad faith in destroying the evidence. This case fits the Youngblood mold, because the evidence was not obviously exculpatory; however the defense has shown that the government acted in bad faith in destroying the evidence. The defendants were charged with making defective radio towers in conjunction with an FAA contract. The FAA destroyed all the towers prior to trial, despite numerous requests by the defendants and their attorneys to examine the material to perform independent tests.

United States v. Belcher, 762 F.Supp. 666 (W.D.Va. 1991)

The state officials’ destruction of the marijuana in this case barred a federal prosecution of the defendants for possessing the marijuana. This case is not controlled by Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51 (1988), which held that a defendant who complains of the loss of “potentially useful” evidence must demonstrate that the police displayed “bad faith.” See also California v. Trombetta, 467 U.S. 479 (1984). Here, the evidence was not just “potentially useful,” it was the evidence which the government relied on in its case-in-chief. The evidence was critical to the state’s case, not just “potentially useful.”