Wilson v. Sheldon, No. 16-3981 (DONALD, Sutton, Thapar).

Wilson v. Sheldon, No. 16-3981 (DONALD, Sutton, Thapar).

In 1993, police found a woman unresponsive and bleeding from the head. A bloody, 110-pound boulder was lying near the body. The police collected evidence, including the boulder, and classified the case as a felonious-assault investigation. The woman later died from her injuries, but the police neglected to change the case’s classification to “homicide,” and therefore the evidence was destroyed after the statute of limitations for felonious assault ran. Over a decade later, during the course of a different investigation, detectives interviewed a woman who said that Robert Wilson had made statements to her on the night of the murder suggesting that he had been the killer. Wilson was tried and convicted of the woman’s murder, and after exhausting his direct appeals he filed a § 2254 habeas corpus petition, arguing that the destruction of the evidence made his conviction unconstitutional.

The Sixth Circuit denied his petition. The Court noted that in order to prove a violation of due process because of destruction of evidence, the petitioner must show bad faith where the state fails to preserve evidentiary material that only might have been exculpatory. Specifically, the petitioner must show either “official animus” or a “conscious effort to suppress exculpatory evidence.” The petitioner also must show that the exculpatory value was evident before the material’s destruction, and that the defendant was unable to obtain comparable evidence. The Court held that the facts as alleged by the petitioner only show negligence or gross negligence, not bad faith. Therefore, the Court denied the petition.