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Name: People v. Alvarez
Case #: G048425
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 09/10/2014

Trial court properly dismissed robbery charges where police acted in bad faith by failing to preserve potentially useful video evidence. Defendants Alvarez, Cisneros, and Renteria were charged with robbery based on evidence that Alvarez and Cisneros were with Renteria when he snatched a $3,200 gold chain from Jose C.’s neck. The incident occurred in a high-crime area where the police department maintained cameras. When he was arrested, Cisneros told one of the officers to check any nearby cameras, claiming that the footage would show he didn’t do anything. Despite requests that the video evidence be preserved, it was destroyed before anyone had an opportunity to view it. Cisneros filed a motion based primarily on California v. Trombetta (1984) 467 U.S. 479, arguing that the police had possessed evidence that would have exonerated him and Alvarez, but allowed it to be destroyed. Alvarez and Renteria joined the motion, which the trial court granted over the prosecution’s objection. The People appealed. Held: Affirmed as to Alvarez and Cisneros; reversed as to Renteria. A criminal defendant’s right to due process is violated when police act in bad faith in failing to preserve potentially useful evidence. (Arizona v. Youngblood (1988) 488 U.S. 51.) Here, Cisneros and Alvarez showed that the video of the crime scene had the potential to exonerate or considerably reduce their culpability. However, nothing in Cisneros’ motion suggested that the videos had exculpatory value for Renteria. Bad faith was also shown because officers failed to preserve the evidence despite repeated requests. An officer assured Cisneros that the video would be checked, but failed to request the video footage even though he knew the video would be destroyed after a short period. The appellate court also concluded that the evidence did not meet the higher Trombetta standard, which requires that the evidence possess an exculpatory value that was apparent before it was destroyed and does not require a showing of bad faith.