One of the most cherished rights held by Americans is their right to due process: the idea that they get their day in court to tell their side of the story. Today, when that story is told by a blood sample, it is important that both sides have an equal chance to test it.
That’s exactly what didn’t happen in a recent DUI case from the Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth, and the violation of the defendant’s due process rights led to the case against him being thrown out.
It started when the defendant was arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in March of 2010. He consented to a blood-alcohol test, and the results came back the next month showing that his alcohol level was .11, higher than the legal limit of .08.
In June, his lawyer sent the prosecutor notice that the blood sample should be preserved so that his client could have it independently tested. Over a year later, while preparing for trial, his defense lawyers learned that the state had destroyed the evidence, despite the earlier request.
Trial Court Holding
In court, the defendant’s lawyer asked the judge to throw out the state’s evidence of intoxication, because they had no opportunity to independently test it themselves. They claimed it was a violation of the man’s due process rights. The judge agreed, granting the motion on the spot. Because their case against the man had essentially collapsed, the state appealed the decision, claiming that there was no reason to believe that the evidence would have actually helped the man’s case if it were re-tested.
Court of Appeals Holding
The Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court judge, and said that the state doesn’t have the right to determine whether any particular piece of evidence would be helpful to the defendant or not. They further pointed out that this blood sample had been specifically requested by the defense team in writing, making its destruction a violation of the defendant’s due process rights.
In the wake of this case, local police departments will likely be more careful to preserve evidence in order to avoid a similar loss in court. The case also illustrates the importance of hiring an experienced DWI/DUI attorney as soon as possible following an arrest, as it was the careful work by the attorney in requesting that the sample be preserved that paid dividends when the case finally came up for trial over a year later.