United States v. Sivilla

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 05-07-2013
  • Case #: 11-50484
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Noonan for the Court; Circuit Judges Pregerson and Paez
  • Full Text Opinion

Government destruction of evidence requires bad faith for dismissal as a constitutional violation, but bad faith is not required for a remedial jury instruction.

Victor Hugo Sivilla was convicted of possession of hidden drugs in his Jeep. Sivilla appealed his conviction because the destruction of his Jeep left only poor quality photographs of the Jeep and drugs as evidence. Sivilla argued that the trial judge erred in denying his motion to dismiss and erred in requiring bad faith to give a remedial jury instruction. Following his arrest, Sivilla requested for the preservation of the Jeep; however, the Jeep was forfeited, and an auction wholesaler sold the Jeep where it was stripped for parts. Due to the destruction of evidence, Sivilla filed a motion to dismiss, or alternatively an instruction to the jury informing them of the destruction of the Jeep before Sivilla’s counsel had an opportunity to inspect it. The trial judge denied the motion to dismiss and refused to grant the jury instruction finding no bad faith on the part of the government because Sivilla’s counsel had photographs. In order for the destruction of evidence to become a constitutional violation, the government must have acted in bad faith and the evidence destroyed must be such that comparable evidence cannot be reasonably obtained. The government only acted negligently, which does not arise to bad faith, so the government made no constitutional violation justifying a dismissal. Using a balancing test to determine sanctions for destruction of evidence, the government must justify its conduct and the accused must demonstrate prejudice. The government had poor conduct in failing to preserve evidence, and Sivilla was significantly prejudiced by the destruction of evidence justifying a remedial jury instruction. The Ninth Circuit held government destruction of evidence requires bad faith for dismissal; however, bad faith is not required for a remedial jury instruction. AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part, and REMANDED.

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