WHAT EVIDENCE HAS TO BE PRESERVED IN A CRIMINAL CASE?
When the government charges an individual with a crime, the government must have proof of the individual’s guilt. Generally, this proof is made up of either witness testimony or physical evidence that the government gathers in its investigation. Any evidence the government plans to use must then be disclosed to the defendant in order for the defendant to see the government’s evidence and be able to mount a defense. However, a criminal investigation typically gathers a large amount of evidence, some of which may not be relevant to the crime. So what happens to the evidence that is not used? Can it be discarded?
Under the 6th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, both the state and federal governments have a duty to preserve certain types of evidence that it gathers when conducting a criminal investigation and prosecution. The Constitution requires this duty in order to ensure that the defendant receives a fair trial and the right to due process. As a result, the government is obligated to preserve evidence as soon as they receive or take possession of evidence in a criminal investigation. However, all evidence does not have to be preserved, just evidence that is considered “material” or “exculpatory.”
Material and Exculpatory Evidence
Material evidence is evidence that is vital and directly relates to the defendant’s criminal case. Exculpatory evidence is evidence that points to the defendant’s innocence or tends to show that the defendant is not guilty. Some common examples of both material and exculpatory evidence are:
- Items found at the crime scene;
- Photo or video evidence;
- Scientific tests (DNA, fingerprint analysis, etc.);
- Investigative documents;
What Parties Must Preserve Evidence
As previously stated, the government has a Constitutional duty to preserve material and exculpatory evidence obtained in a criminal matter. This applies to any government agency or organization involved including:
- Police or Sheriff departments;
- District Attorneys or Prosecutors; or
- Federal Agencies (F.B.I, D.E.A., etc.);
Parties That Do Not Have to Preserve Evidence
However, it is important to note that private individuals or organizations are not obligated to preserve evidence unless they are affiliated with a government agency that is investigating a crime. Additionally, just because a private individual or organization is not obligated to preserve a crime, this does not mean that a private individual or organization can intentionally destroy evidence of a crime. If this occurs, that private individual or organization can be charged with obstruction of justice.
If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney that can help zealously defend your case. Contact Us at Minick Law, P.C. for a free consultation on your case.