The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires criminal defendants to have “a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense.” The prosecution generally has a duty to preserve evidence, but it is not absolute. State v. Wittenbarger. The state’s failure to preserve “material exculpatory evidence” generally requires dismissal, but a failure to preserve “potentially useful evidence only requires dismissal if the state acted in bad faith. Potentially useful evidence is evidence that could have been subjected to tests which might have exonerated the defendant. State v. Groth.
A Washington criminal defendant recently appealed his drug and gun-related convictions after the police department allowed the vehicle in which he was found to be towed from its lot.
According to the appeals court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested on a warrant after a police officer found him sleeping in a vehicle. The officer testified that he found significant amounts of cash and drugs in the defendant’s pocket in a search incident to arrest. The drugs subsequently tested positive for methamphetamine and fentanyl. The officer found paraphernalia, including a box of baking soda, in the car and a revolver in a bag in front of the driver’s seat.