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Name: U.S. v. Zaragoza
Case #: 13-50506
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 03/18/2015

Border patrol agent’s destruction of video depicting defendant’s border crossing violated defendant’s right to due process, requiring reversal. Defendant was caught with drugs at the San Ysidro border crossing with Mexico. Upon being taken into custody, defendant repeatedly told officers she tried to make herself conspicuous to get caught because she had been forced to participate in the drug smuggling. After she was charged with drug offenses, her attorney sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney asking that the border crossing video be preserved. After defendant’s indictment, her attorney secured a court order that the video be maintained. Later, counsel learned the video had been destroyed. After defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment was denied, she entered a conditional plea and appealed. Held: Reversed and remanded to dismiss indictment. In California v. Trombetta (1984) 467 U.S. 479, the Court held the government violates a defendant’s due process rights if the unavailable evidence possessed exculpatory value that was apparent before the evidence was destroyed and defendant is unable to obtain comparable evidence by reasonable means. In Arizona v. Youngblood (1988) 488 U.S. 51, the Court added the requirement that the government acted in bad faith in failing to preserve the evidence. Here, defendant offered a duress defense and the destroyed video was potentially useful to support that claim because it purportedly showed defendant’s attention seeking behavior. A review of defendant’s interview with border patrol agents established they knew the potential exculpatory value of the evidence before it was destroyed, because defendant repeatedly asserted she acted under duress and wanted to be caught. The government acted in bad faith by destroying the video.