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United States v. Dudley

United States District Court, D. Colorado

October 31, 2019




         The Government charges Defendant Marvin Sakori Maleik Dudley (“Dudley”) with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(B)(viii); possession of a firearm during and in furtherance of drug trafficking, 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i); and possession of a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). (ECF No. 22 at 1-2.) Dudley moves to dismiss the case against him, alleging that the Government destroyed exculpatory evidence, and asks for a hearing (the “Motion”). (ECF No. 72.) The Court has reviewed the parties' briefing and finds that no hearing is necessary. For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court has previously recounted the facts of this case in its Order granting in part and denying in part Dudley's Motion to Suppress. (ECF No. 58.) The Court presumes familiarity with that prior Order, and thus briefly recounts only the facts relevant to the instant Motion.

         On April 28, 2018, Denver Police Department (“DPD”) Officers Heather Jossi and Gavin Whitman ran the license plate number of a gold Suzuki sedan with Colorado license plate ONH737. The officers learned that the vehicle had been reported stolen on April 16, 2018, and initiated a high-risk traffic stop of the vehicle in a 7-Eleven parking lot at 1000 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, Colorado. Other officers joined to conduct the high-risk stop.

         Officer Whitman ordered Dudley to exit the vehicle. Once Dudley stepped out of the car, officers immediately placed him in handcuffs. Dudley informed the officers that he was carrying a gun, and officers removed the weapon from Dudley's waistband.

         Prior to seating Dudley in the back of a police car, several officers searched Dudley and found a green Crown Royal bag hanging from Dudley's belt loop and tucked inside his pants. The officers removed the bag, looked inside, and found two separate plastic bags containing suspected methamphetamine. Officers also searched the car that Dudley was driving, and recovered a number of items.

         The officers filled out a DPD “Property Invoice” for the items found on Dudley and in the vehicle. (ECF No. 72-2.) The Property Invoice listed, among other things, $319 in U.S. currency, the two bags of suspected methamphetamine (one of which contained a number of smaller baggies of suspected methamphetamine), a digital scale, and “pipes.” (Id.) At the scene, Officer Jossi described the pipes as “drug paraphernalia.” The majority of the items were booked as evidence, but the pipes were designated as “personal property.” (Id.) Under DPD policy, items designated as personal property have “no evidentiary value but must be held for safekeeping for the owner.” (ECF No. 81-1 at 2.) Personal property is held by DPD for 30 days, after which time it is “disposed of or sold at public auction.” (Id. at 5.) The pipes were subsequently destroyed. Dudley characterizes this situation as Officer Jossi authorizing the destruction of the two drug paraphernalia pipes. (ECF No. 72 at 3.)

         The officers advised Dudley of his rights, and he agreed to speak with them. Dudley stated that the owner of the vehicle had loaned her car to him for $80 worth of heroin. He surmised that the owner had likely reported the vehicle stolen, rather than pay the $80. The officers then asked Dudley if he was in the area trying to sell the drugs found in the Crown Royal bag. Dudley said no. The officers suggested that the quantity Dudley was carrying was greater than what they normally found on persons in the area. To this, Dudley replied that he “had pounds of that [inaudible].”[1]

         DPD Foresnic Chemist Jason Schimschal tested the suspected methamphetamine. (ECF No. 77 at 4.) The first bag tested positive for 11.79 grams of methamphetamine at a purity level of 85.26%, or 9.991 grams of pure methamphetamine. The other bag contained 6.3 grams of methamphetamine in 22 individual baggies. The 6.3 grams were tested only for type of substance and not for purity.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Dudley argues that the Government violated his right to due process by destroying exculpatory evidence, and thus asks the Court to dismiss the indictment.

         California v. Trombetta, 467 U.S. 479 (1984), and Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51 (1988), set forth the standards used to determine whether the Government violated a defendant's right to due process through the destruction of evidence. The Government violates a defendant's due process when it fails to preserve or destroys evidence with “an exculpatory value that was apparent before it was destroyed” and “of such a nature that the defendant would be unable to obtain comparable evidence by other reasonably available means.” Trombetta, 467 U.S. at 489. In Trombetta, the Supreme Court noted that, “[w]hatever duty the Constitution imposes on the States to preserve evidence, that duty must be limited to evidence that might be expected to play a significant role in the suspect's defense.” Id. at 488.

         In Youngblood, the Supreme Court clarified that the Due Process Clause does not “impos[e] on the police an undifferentiated and absolute duty to retain and preserve all material that might be of conceivable evidentiary significance in a particular prosecution.” Youngblood, 488 U.S. at 58. Instead, if the item is of indeterminate evidentiary value or only potentially useful-i.e., “evidentiary material of which no more can be said than that it could have been subjected to tests, the results of which might have exonerated the defendant”-there is no due process violation unless the defendant proves the state acted in bad faith by destroying or failing to preserve the evidence. Id. at 57-58. The Supreme Court specifically noted that “the police ...

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