When the government ignores a suspect's claims that he or she acted under duress in a drug smuggling incident when entering the country from Mexico, the case may be dismissed if the defendant is prevented from presenting his or her claim. When the government destroys video evidence that would support the suspect's claim of duress, the drug crimes case may also be dismissed. According to a decision recently handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a case based on an arrest made at one of California's border checkpoints has been dismissed.
A border agent allegedly found packages of heroin and methamphetamine on a woman as she attempted to enter the United States. The agent, however, ignored the suspect's claims that members of a Mexican cartel had forced her to attach the drugs to her body and that, if she did so, her family members would not be hurt. The suspect reportedly requested that Homeland Security obtain the video footage from the border that would support her claim during a later interview.
The agent did not honor the woman's requests, so, when the defendant's attorney requested the video, the government revealed that the footage had been destroyed. The defendant entered a conditional guilty plea before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. That plea allowed her to pursue justice on appeal through her claim that she had been denied the opportunity to fully defend herself due to the government having destroyed evidence.
The federal appeals court held that the drug crimes indictment had to be dismissed because the government's obstructive procedures violated the woman's due process rights. The court rejected the government's claims that the woman still had the opportunity to testify about the coercion and that she did not need the video. The court, sitting in Pasadena, California, held that compelling her to testify in her own defense would be in violation of her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The case does not say that the video would have proved the woman's case but that the right to present all of the available evidence in one's behalf should not be unduly limited.
Source: courthousenews.com, "Indictment Tossed for Destruction of Evidence", Jamie Ross, March 19, 2015