Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, October 27, 2006

Revolorio-Ramo: No Due Process Violation in Unintentional Destruction of Evidence

In U.S. v. Revolorios-Ramo, No. 03-14361 (Oct. 26, 2006), the Court rejected the argument that Due Process required the dismissal of an indictment for conspiracy to possess cocaine while on board a vessel, in violation of 46 U.S.C. app. § 1903, because the U.S. Navy destroyed, for unseaworthiness, the fishing vessel on which the defendants were apprehended off the coast of Guatemala, thereby destroying the exculpatory evidence that the vessel was merely a fishing vessel, and that the defendants did not intend to be involved in drug trafficking.
The Court noted that some evidence of hooks and bait aboard the vessel was presented at trial. Therefore, the question was whether this equipment was of genuine fishing quality. The potentially excuplatory evidence aboard the vessel would merely have bolstered the defendants’ defense. Further, the defendants had an opportunity to cross-examine the law enforcement officers about the nature of the fishing equipment.
In addition, the law enforcement agent did attempt to preserve evidence, though his photographs did a "singularly poor job." But his bad photos were not taken in bad faith. Thus, there was no evidence of "official animus." "In short, the government clearly attempted, albeit unsuccessfully and perhaps incompetently, to document the contents of a vessel deemed unseaworthy by the Coast Guard prior to destroying her." No Due Process violation occurred.