Defendant must show prejudice by loss of evidence for case to be dismissed

People v. Manzo (Cal. Ct. App., Oct. 17, 2023, No. E079991) 2023 WL 6826849, at *1

 Summary:The Riverside County District Attorney appealed the trial court’s dismissal of three felony charges against Manzo due to evidence lost during the prosecution’s five-year delay in prosecuting the case after filing charges against defendant. Because there is no evidence that the loss of evidence prejudiced defendant, the Court of Appeal the order dismissing the complaint.

Facts: After Manzo completed a five year prison sentence in a San Bernardino robbery case, he was arrested and arraigned on outstanding charges in Riverside County in April 2022. Manzo moved to dismiss the charges on the ground that the delay in prosecuting him violated his due process rights under article I, section 15 of the California Constitution. Manzo claimed that the delay between the filing of charges against him and his arraignment prejudiced him for several reasons, including loss of the video footage of his arrest from the officer’s dashcam. The District Attorney’s argued that Manzo  suffered no actual prejudice from the delay.

The trial court found that the missing dashcam footage caused Manzo prejudice. The court stated: “The existence of the dashcam is problematic. I tend to agree with the prosecution that the loss of any dashcam footage can be prejudicial to prosecution of the case just as much as it might be prejudicial to defense. But I think that that doesn’t obviate the fact that there is some prejudice that ensued to the defense from the unavailability of such evidence, which could possibly substantiate defense claims that the circumstances of the arrest were not as claimed by the law enforcement agency performing the arrest. I think to some extent that that does constitute prejudice.” The court granted Manzo’s motion to dismiss the complaint and the  District Attorney appealed.

Manzo was not prejudiced by the delay in trial

Under article I, section 15 California constitution, an unreasonable post-complaint delay constitutes a denial of the right to a speedy trial. (Jones v. Superior Court (1970) 3 Cal.3d 734, 739-740.) But, the defendant must first show actual prejudice resulting from the delay based on competent evidence and “must be supported by particular facts and not … by bare conclusionary statements.” (Crockett v. Superior Court (1975) 14 Cal.3d 433, 442.) Speculative arguments do not  establish actual prejudice. The defendant must demonstrate having suffered actual prejudice as a result of the delay, not just the possibility of prejudice.

If the defendant shows actual prejudice from a delayed prosecution, “the prosecution must show justification for the delay. If the prosecution does that, the trial court must balance the prejudice to the defendant resulting from the delay against the prosecution’s justification for the delay. [C “[T]he more reasonable the delay, the more prejudice the defense would have to show to require dismissal.” (Ibarra v. Municipal Court (1984) 162 Cal.App.3d 853, 858.) But if the defendant fails to satisfy the initial burden of showing actual prejudice, “there is no need to determine whether the delay was justified.” (People v. Jones, supra, 57 Cal.4th at 921.)

A trial court’s ruling on a motion to dismiss for prejudicial delay is reviewed for an abuse of discretion and the reviewing court defers to any underlying factual findings if supported by substantial evidence. Whether a delay is prejudicial is a factual question reviewed for substantial evidence.

Here, there is no evidence that the missing dashcam footage prejudiced Manzo in any way. He offered only speculation that the footage had exculpatory value in that it might have contradicted the arresting officer’s version of events.

The trial court acknowledged, the missing dashcam footage might help defendant’s case, but it is entirely possible that it could help the prosecution’s case. Although the footage could have contradicted the officer’s version of events, it also could have confirmed it. Manzo’s claim of prejudice is therefore based wholly “on speculation, not proof of actual prejudice.” (Alexander, supra, 49 Cal.4th at p. 875.)

Because no substantial evidence supporting the trial court’s finding that Manzo was prejudiced by the delay in prosecuting him and the loss of the dashcam footage the Court reversed the order dismissing the complaint.

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