Monday, August 29, 2011

DWI Law - New Jersey Booking Video Loss Creates Negative Inference

What happens if the police department has a booking room video of a defendant, and prior to retrieval the system (allegedly) corrupts, rendering the video irretrievable? In New Jersey v. Ayala, Not Reported in A.3d, 2011 WL 3476806 (N.J.Super.A.D.), the defendant sought suppression, arguing that the failure to have a system in place to download the video before it is subject to loss, was a suppressible scenario. Additionally, the defendant sought to have the jury instructed that they should draw a negative inference against the government for the incident.

On appeal, the court reviewed the constitutional law on the subject of destruction of evidence. Reviewing Trombetta and Youngblood, the court held that in the absence a showing of bad faith (which wasn't proven according to the trial judge) there was no basis for suppression.

Nevertheless, the court did authorize the use of a jury instruction, as well as introduction of the circumstances of how the tape was (neglectfully) not preserved, as an appropriate tactic to be employed by the defense:

"In its brief on this appeal, the State acknowledges that evidence relevant to the production and loss of the recording would be admissible. We agree.

"In addressing whether a state's loss of evidence that did not meet the Trombetta standard amounted to a denial of due process, the Supreme Court relied, in part, on the fact that the jury was instructed that it could draw an adverse inference if it determined that the state acted in bad faith. See Youngblood, supra, 488 U.S. at 54, 109 S.Ct. at 335, 102 L. Ed.2d at 287; cf. Marshall, 123 N.J. at 109 (quoting Youngblood on this point and finding no due process violation where the State diminished the prejudice by opting not to introduce the test results it obtained through testing of a tire that limited defendant's ability to conduct tests that may have produced exculpatory evidence). If the evidence presented at trial permits an inference of bad faith such an instruction should be given.

"We stress that this court's acceptance of the judge's finding that the officers' loss of the recording was not intentional or the result of bad faith is a product of our standard of review. On the evidence presented at the suppression hearing, a reasonable person crediting defendant's testimony and discrediting the officers' testimony could come to a different conclusion. We refer to the inconsistencies in the officers' testimony about activation of the recording device; the fact that Purcell claims he was unable to retrieve the recording in June but Butler testified that the power surge that affected the computer occurred in August; defendant's testimony that a tape recorder was used; and the fact that the State had no information as to recordings that were stored on the computer's server or hard drive.

"For all of the foregoing reasons, we conclude that the judge did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress for failure to preserve the recording. Our holding assumes that the trial judge will admit the State's evidence subject to conditions that give defendant a reasonable means of presenting the exculpatory evidence through his own testimony and the inference available therefrom, including an instruction on any negative inference based on bad faith that is available from the evidence adduced at trial."

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