In a possession of marijuana with intent to distribute case west of Jacksonville, Florida, the police suspected that the defendant was selling drugs. During their investigation, they placed a GPS device on his vehicle without obtaining a search warrant. Later, the police learned that a package containing marijuana was being shipped to a warehouse. They used the GPS device to track the defendant to the warehouse where he was arrested with the marijuana.
During the discovery phase of the case, the criminal defense lawyer requested all of the records related to the GPS device from the state. The criminal defense attorney believed that some of the GPS evidence would be helpful in their defense. However, the state indicated that they lost the GPS information that might be helpful to the defendant (while retaining the GPS information that was helpful to the state). The state said the GPS information sought by the criminal defense lawyer was accidentally deleted when they were updating the software. The state also said there was no backup source and no central database storage.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the marijuana charges claiming the defendant’s due process rights were violated by the state’s loss of possibly exculpatory evidence. A criminal case can be dismissed if potentially critical evidence is lost or destroyed by the state. The defendant has to show that the evidence could help show he is not guilty and also that he has no other way to get such evidence. The criminal defense attorney does not have to show that the state intentionally lost or destroyed the evidence or did so negligently. Because the GPS evidence had significant gaps in it at a critical time in the case, the court agreed that the lost evidence was sufficiently important. Additionally, because it involved GPS evidence that was deleted, there was no other way for the defendant to obtain similar evidence.
It is rare for the court to dismiss a criminal case before trial, but in cases where the state loses or destroys evidence that is likely to be important for the defense of the case and there is no other way to get such evidence, dismissal of the criminal charges is the appropriate sanction, as in this case.