Arizona v. Youngblood,
488 U.S. 51 (1988)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51 (1988)

Arizona v. Youngblood

No. 86-1904

Argued October 11, 1988

Decided November 29, 1988

488 U.S. 51


The victim, a 10-year-old boy, was molested and sodomized by a middle-aged man for 1 1/2 hours. After the assault, the boy was taken to a hospital, where a physician used a swab from a "sexual assault kit" to collect semen samples from the boy's rectum. The police also collected the boy's clothing, which they failed to refrigerate. A police criminologist later performed some tests on the rectal swab and the boy's clothing, 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 exonerated by timely performance of tests on properly preserved semen samples. Respondent was convicted of child molestation, sexual assault, and kidnaping in an Arizona state court. The Arizona Court of Appeals reversed the conviction on the ground that the State had breached a constitutional duty to preserve the semen samples from the victim's body and clothing.

Held: The Due Process Clause did not require the State to preserve the semen samples even though the samples might have been useful to respondent. 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 tests on the semen samples 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 the samples. The Arizona Court of Appeals noted in its opinion -- and this Court agrees -- that there was no suggestion of bad faith on the part of the police. Moreover, the Due Process Clause was not violated because the State failed to perform a newer test on the semen samples. The police do not have a constitutional duty to perform any particular tests. Pp. 488 U. S. 55-59.

153 Ariz. 50, 734 P.2d 592, reversed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 488 U. S. 59. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 488 U. S. 61.

Page 488 U. S. 52

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