Destruction of Evidence in Four Corners Trafficking Case?

Posted on April 27, 2010

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Indian artifacts seized in the Four Corners raid.

The Illicit Cultural Property Blog pointed out that an attorney in the Four Corners case has asked the court to exclude evidence originating from Ted Gardiner because, you know, he’s dead.  But what about destruction of evidence or spoliation?

Here’s what I’m thinking. The Feds were well aware that Ted Gardiner was having emotional problems, as his odd behavior in the months leading up to his suicide indicated. He was freaking out about how he was portrayed in the media, among other things. I haven’t heard anything about them trying to get him the proper psychiatric care that he needed. He also had a history with substance abuse, and the whole situation was a recipe for disaster.

It could be argued that there was a foreseeable risk that Gardiner would take his life, and that the Feds failed to take adequate precautions to prevent the destruction of evidence that would result. The duty to take those adequate precautions would arise out of both the investigation’s employment of Gardiner as well as his status as a “star witness” in the criminal prosecution. It’s a spoliation issue, really. And if the argument were made successfully, it would build a nice little foundation for a wrongful death claim in the civil arena for his family.

In the criminal context, spoliation can tank an entire prosecution, because it interferes with a person’s right to an adequate defense. The negligent spoliation of evidence interferes with a criminal defendants constitutional rights. I’ll look forward to seeing whether the argument is made in the Four Corners case.

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