Illinois v. Fisher, 540 U.S. 544 (2004) (per curiam)

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on petition for writ of certiorari to the appellate court of illinois, first district

No. 03-374. Decided February 23, 2004

After Chicago police conducted four tests on a white powdery substance seized during respondent's arrest, he was charged with possession of cocaine and filed a discovery motion for all physical evidence the State intended to use at trial. He then fled while released on bail, and the court issued an arrest warrant. When that warrant was finally executed 10 years later, the State reinstated the possession charge, informing respondent that the police, acting under established procedures, had destroyed the substance seized during his arrest. Respondent formally requested production of the substance and moved to dismiss the charge based on the destruction of evidence. The trial court denied his motion, and he was convicted. The Appellate Court reversed, holding that the Due Process Clause required dismissal of the charge and finding that such a result was not foreclosed by Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U. S. 51, 58, in which this Court held that "unless a criminal defendant can show bad faith on the part of police, failure to preserve potentially useful evidence does not constitute a denial of due process of law."

Held: Respondent has failed to establish a due process violation. While the prosecution's good or bad faith is irrelevant when a State suppresses or fails to disclose material exculpatory evidence, Youngblood recognizes that bad faith is relevant when dealing with the State's failure to preserve "potentially useful evidence." The substance seized here was plainly the latter sort of evidence. At most, respondent could hope that a fifth test of the substance would have exonerated him. He did not allege, nor did the Appellate Court find, that the police acted in bad faith in destroying the substance. To the contrary, police testing inculpated respondent, and the police acted in good faith and in accord with their normal practice. This Court has never held or suggested that the existence of a pending discovery request eliminates the necessity of a bad-faith showing. Nor does the Court agree that Youngblood does not apply when the contested evidence is a defendant's only hope for exoneration and is essential to the case's outcome. The Youngblood bad-faith requirement's applicability depends not on the contested evidence's centrality to the case, but on the distinction between "material exculpa-tory" evidence and "potentially useful" evidence. 488 U. S., at 57-58.

Certiorari granted; reversed and remanded.

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