Arizona v. Youngblood

RESPONDENT:Larry Youngblood
LOCATION:Kino Community Hospital

DOCKET NO.: 86-1904
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 488 US 51 (1988)
ARGUED: Oct 11, 1988
DECIDED: Nov 29, 1988

Daniel F. Davis – on behalf of the Respondent
John R. Gustafson – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

On October 29, 1983, 10-year-old David was abducted from a church carnival. The abductor molested and sodomized the boy, then returned him to the carnival an hour and a half later. David’s mother took him to the Kino Hospital, where a doctor examined him and used a sexual assault kit to collect evidence. The police collected the kit and the boy’s clothes. The evidence from the kit was refrigerated, but the clothing was not. Nine days after the attack, David positively identified Larry Youngblood as the abductor from a photo lineup. The next day, a police criminologist examined the sexual assault kit and determined that sexual contact had occurred, but he did not test the clothing at that time. Youngblood was indicted on charges of sexual assault, kidnapping, and child molestation. The state moved to compel him to provide samples to compare with those from the sexual assault kit, but the trial court denied the motion because there was not enough sample material in the kit to make a valid comparison. In January 1985, the police criminologist tested the boy’s clothing for the first time and received inconclusive data.

At trial, police witnesses testified as to what the tests might have shown had they been conducted closer to the time the evidence was gathered. The court instructed the jury to consider the facts “against the state’s interests” if they found the state had lost or destroyed evidence by conducting the tests later. The jury found the defendant guilty. The Arizona Court of Appeals reversed and held that, when identity is an issue at trial, the loss or destruction of evidence that could remove the defendant from suspicion is a denial of due process. The Supreme Court of Arizona denied the petition for review.


Does the state’s failure to preserve potentially useful evidence constitute a denial of due process?

Media for Arizona v. Youngblood

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 11, 1988 in Arizona v. Youngblood

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – November 29, 1988 in Arizona v. Youngblood

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in number 86-1904, Arizona against Youngblood.

In this case, a 10-year-old boy was molested and sodomized by a middle-aged man for one-and-a-half hours.

After the assault, the boy was taken to a hospital where a physician used a sexual assault kit to collect evidence from the boy’s body.

The police also collected the boy’s clothing which they failed to refrigerate.

A police criminologist later performed some tests on this evidence but he was unable to obtain information about the identity of the boy’s assailant.

At trial, expert witnesses testified that respondent might have been completely exhaunerated by timely performance of test with properly preserved evidence.

Respondent was convicted of child-molestation, sexual assault, and kidnapping in an Arizona State Court.

The Arizona Court of Appeals reversed the conviction on the ground that the state had breach a constitutional duty to preserve the evidence from the victim’s body and clothing.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we hold that unless a criminal defendant can show bad faith on the part of the police.

Failure to preserve potentially useful evidence does not constitute a denial of due process of law.

Here, the police’s failure to refrigerate the victim’s clothing and to perform certain tests on the evidence can at worst be described as negligent.

None of this information was concealed from respondent at trial and the evidence, such as it was, was made available to respondent’s expert who declined to perform any tests on it.

The Arizona Court of Appeals noted in its opinion that there was no suggestion of bad faith on the part of the police.

It follows, therefore, that there was no violation of the due process clause and the judgment of the Arizona Court of Appeals is reversed.

Justice Stevens has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

Justice Blackmun has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Brennan and Marshall have joined.