What is Preservation of Evidence in Your Criminal Case?
The manner in which the state of Arizona handles evidence pertaining to your case has the potential to shape the outcome of that case. If prosecutors or law enforcement fail to preserve evidence in the proper manner, it will present problems down the line. In fact, such mishandling of evidence can significantly prejudice the criminal defendant.
If specific elements are met, it is possible that the judge will tell jurors that they can draw an inference that proves unfavorable to the prosecution. This inference can create reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty should the loss of evidence not be properly explained. Let’s take a look at the analysis Arizona courts perform when determining if the accused individual is entitled to relief amidst a jury trial.
The Prosecution’s Duty to Preserve Evidence
The prosecution in the state of Arizona has a duty to preserve evidence as long as four factors are met. The evidence must be reasonably accessible. The evidence must be obviously material. Furthermore, evidence is to be preserved if the accused would be prejudiced in the event that the evidence were lost. Preservation must also occur if the evidence has the tendency to help exonerate the accused individual.
What Reasonably Accessible Really Means
The determination of whether evidence is reasonably accessible hinges on whether that evidence is reasonably within the state’s grasp. The state does not hold the affirmative duty to obtain and possess evidence that might be exculpatory or even gather such evidence on a defendant’s behalf.
A Look at the Meaning of Obviously Material
Evidence is considered obviously material if the state of Arizona relies on it as a component of its investigation or if the state is aware the defendant would rely on it as evidence for his legal defense. The most important point of note is the evidence must be obvious at the time the police collected it.
As an example, a prior Arizona case involving the armed robbery of a corner store was centered on the use of surveillance footage to prove the defendant’s alleged guilt. Police viewed surveillance footage to watch the robbery yet did not actually collect that footage. The footage was subsequently destroyed. The court determined the footage met the standard of obviously material to police officers as the point in time when the investigation occurred.
What Resulting in Prejudice Means
Judges have considerable latitude when determining if a defendant has been prejudiced by the state’s refusal to preserve evidence. If the judge determines the state of Arizona has failed to properly preserve evidence yet the defendant in question is not affected by the err in judgment, that defendant will not be provided with any form of relief.
The Meaning of “Tendency to Exonerate the Accused”
The final standard of the tendency to exonerate the accused is only met when the defense does more than merely speculate in regard to how the evidence that is lost might have proven helpful. The defense is tasked with demonstrating the evidence that has been lost would have proven useful for crafting a defense theory that is properly supported by the evidence.
As an example, a previous Arizona court case involving an informant’s text messages to police failed to meet the standard of tendency to exonerate the accused as the defendant committed a clear offense yet argued the illegal act was the result of being entrapped by the informant working with police.