Deliberate Destruction of DWI Evidence Deemed Unconstitutional on Due Process Grounds

Posted On March 27, 2012 by Daniel Koewler

Ever wonder what happens to that blood or urine sample that gets sent to the government lab for analysis once the testing is done? In Minnesota, the lab will hang on to the sample, giving defendants an opportunity to retest the sample and make sure that the lab's results are correct.

At least, that's what happens in most cases.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has a policy of destroying these samples after a year, likely to conserve storage space. However, not every case is resolved within a year - some counties will not allow a civil implied consent hearing to be held until the criminal case is completely over; sometimes witnesses are deployed overseas, and proceedings are put on hold; sometimes the issues are so complicated that additional hearings are required. Even if that happens - even if a case is still pending after one year- the current BCA policy is still the same: destroy the sample, without regard for whether or not the case has resolved.

This is even the policy if the defendant's attorney specifically demands that the government preserve the evidence until the conclusion of the case. However, that policy is likely about to change, after our Court of Appeals ruled that such a procedure is unconstitutional.

In State v. Hawkinson, the court held that the government's destruction of crucial evidence (a blood sample) while the criminal case is still pending is unconstitutional, especially when the defense went out of their way to specifically demand that the government preserve the evidence. While this decision seems like a no-brainer, the state of the law regarding the storage of evidence is often both complex and confusing, making this decision that much more important.

Being a good defense attorney means knowing the ins and outs of the law, as it develops. That includes making specific demands that may seem redundant and silly - like telling the government to hang onto their key evidence until the trial is over - but preservation demands like this can be the difference between the suppression of evidence and being left hanging high and dry, without any way to challenge the government's test result.