People v. Cunningham, 2018 IL App (1st) 153367 (June). Episode 517 (Duration 12:37)
Dismissal of the charges was not warranted when police destroyed some of the evidence.
Police see a man take a shotgun out of the back door of an abandoned house.
Two men with him run away as the man runs further into the house.
The man gets away before dropping the gun inside the house. Later that day other police detain defendant. The witness officer went to the location approximately one block away from where he initially observed defendant with the shotgun. Upon arriving at that location, he saw another officer and his partner detaining defendant, whom the witness officer recognized as “the individual with the mohawk haircut, the Chicago Bulls clothes that had the shotgun at the abandoned house.”
The witness officer later clarified that when he first saw defendant, he recognized the following distinguishing features, other than the Bulls jacket: “blue jeans, medium skin, and roughly about five-five in height.” Defendant’s hair as “a fresh clean mohawk haircut.
The officer’s partner also testified and ID’d defendant saying he saw his face right before the chase.
Defendant later said that “the DOD was in the area shooting, so he went to go get the shotgun to protect him and his friends.”
The Bulls Jacket
Defendant was not wearing the Chicago Bulls jacket at that time but was wearing blue jeans, a shirt, and “obviously his mohawk.”A different officer found the Bulls jacket abandoned underneath a car in an alley in the direction the defendant ran. The jacket was destroyed and not preserved for trial.
Defense counsel filed a motion to dismiss based on the discovery violation.
Defendant asserts that his due process rights were violated when the police acted in bad faith by not following proper procedure and destroying the Bulls jacket, an essential piece of evidence that was not otherwise available.
A discovery violation may be analyzed as either a due process violation under Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51, 58 (1988), or under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 415(g)(i). People v. Borys, 2013 IL App (1st) 111629, ¶ 17.
The State responds that the trial court properly denied defendant’s motion to dismiss because the Bulls jacket and ID were not materially exculpatory evidence and were only inadvertently destroyed.
They said the jacket and the ID of defendant was only “borderline irrelevant” and thus were only potentially useful evidence.
The Law On Destruction Of Evidence
The Supreme Court noted that the police do not have “an undifferentiated and absolute duty to retain and to preserve all material that might be of conceivable evidentiary significance in a particular prosecution” and held that “unless a criminal defendant can show bad faith on the part of the police, failure to preserve potentially useful evidence does not constitute a denial of due process of law.” Youngblood, 488 U.S. at 58.
Fourteenth Amendment, as interpreted in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), makes the good or bad faith of the State irrelevant when the State fails to disclose to the defendant material exculpatory evidence.”
How Important Was The Jacket?
Defendant argues that the Bulls jacket and ID were “key pieces of evidence” and were exculpatory because they could have established misidentification.
Defendant was not wearing the jacket when he was detained, and shortly thereafter, he was identified. There is no evidence that the officers were shown the jacket that was recovered from under the car before identifying defendant as the individual they were looking for. Thus, there is no evidence that the Bulls jacket played any role in defendant’s identification.
Further, one officer unambiguously testified that he recognized defendant’s face and had gotten a clear view of his face because defendant had looked “directly in [his] direction.”
The destroyed evidence here was merely potentially useful, rather than exculpatory.
Bad Faith By Police A Huge Factor
The court further reasoned that the federal and state case law was such that unless defendant can show bad faith on the part of the police, the failure of the police to preserve potentially useful evidence will not constitute a denial of due process of law.
Defendant argues that the police here acted in bad faith where they failed to follow proper procedure that resulted in the destruction of otherwise unavailable evidence. It looks like the jacket was destroyed when the defendant did not respond to a notice that the property was released.
Sure it was an error but no bad faith was demonstrated. The destruction of evidence was inadvertent.
Not Even A Discovery Violation
Further, the evidence does not clearly indicate whether a discovery violation did or did not occur.
Defendant filed his motion for discovery approximately three months after defendant’s arrest. Additionally, defendant never requested a “hold” on the jacket.
A trial court may properly fashion a sanction for a discovery violation when it is proportionate to the magnitude of the violation. The trial court is in the best position to determine an appropriate sanction based upon the effect the discovery violation will have upon the defendant.
We agree with the State and find that the trial court properly denied defendant’s motion to dismiss. Dismissal of the charges against defendant would have been a disproportionate sanction.
We find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied defendant’s motion to dismiss based on destruction of evidence.
Here, the only sanction sought by defendant was dismissal of the charges. Thus, the trial court was faced with determining whether the dismissal of the charges here would be proportional to the conduct that led to the destruction of evidence, and ultimately determined it would not be.
- Other Trial Mishaps & Other Evidence Issues
- People v. Acevedo, 2017 App (3d) 150750 (March) – Episode 309 (Here’s A DUI Discovery Sanction With No Teeth (It’s Not The Civil Inference Thing)
- People v. Moore, 2016 IL App (1st) 133814 (February). Episode 149 (Discovery Sanction is No Sanction At All)
- People v. Tsiamas, 2015 IL App (2d) 140859 (December). Episode 122 (DUI Discovery Violation | You Can’t Ignore the Notice)
- People v. Moravec, 2015 IL App (1st) 133869 (November) – Episode 105 (DUI Discovery Sanctions Upheld)
- People v. Olson, 2015 IL App (2d) 140267 (June) – Episode 077 (DUI Discovery Violation Suppression of Evidence)