What Can You Do When the Police Accidentally Destroy Evidence that’s a Part of Your Maryland Criminal Case?

When the police destroy evidence that was relevant to your case, that’s potentially a huge problem, as you’ll never know if that proof could have strengthened your case. When that happens — whether the destruction was accidental or intentional — there are steps you can take. When it comes to this and other procedural matters, having an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer on your side can help you maximize the protection of your rights.

Missing evidence was key to one Montgomery County man’s recent criminal case and a reversal of his conviction.

21-year-old E.M. was on trial for the alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl. In the case’s initial stages, a Montgomery County detective interviewed the girl and her parents. The police department recorded the interviews but later deleted them after the detective made a computer keystroke error that resulted in the failure to preserve the recordings in “indefinite storage.”

At the end of both sides’ presentation of evidence at trial, the defense asked the judge to issue a “missing evidence” instruction. That instruction would have counseled the jury that the police had destroyed evidence by failing to preserve the recordings and that, if the evidence’s absence “was not sufficiently accounted for or explained,” the jury had the option to decide that the missing evidence would have been favorable to the defense.

The judge declined to give the instruction and the jury convicted E.M.

This failure, according to the Appellate Court, was a harmful error that required a reversal of the accused man’s conviction. The appeals court noted that the missing evidence was “highly relevant,” as the prosecution predicated its case heavily upon the girl’s testimony. Given that background, the defense clearly could have used the recordings of the police interviews to call the girl’s recollection of events into question and to expose inconsistencies between what she told the jury versus what she told the detective.

You Don’t Have to Prove the State Acted Maliciously

Additionally, the court’s ruling in favor of the accused makes it clear that an accused person is entitled to seek a missing evidence jury instruction whenever the missing evidence was highly relevant, regardless of whether the authorities destroyed the evidence in question on purpose or accidentally.

The state argued unsuccessfully that an accused person should only be entitled to a jury instruction if the destruction was intentional, meaning that — because the detective in E.M.’s case merely destroyed the recordings through an innocent computer keystroke error — E.M. was not entitled to the instruction. The appeals court, however, interpreted the seminal Supreme Court case on the issue — 2010’s Cost v. State — as directing trial courts to issue the instruction even if the destruction was solely the result of negligence and devoid of bad intent.

When you are accused of a crime (or under investigation in a criminal matter,) you need a diligent legal advocate fighting for you and protecting your rights. Reach out to the knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC immediately. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation so that we can get started building your defense.

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