State v. Jeffries

State v. Jeffries, 2018 MT 17 (Feb. 6, 2018) (McKinnon, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the municipal court a used its discretion by denying Jeffries’ motion to exclude breath evidence.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: Jeffries was stopped by Missoula police early one morning while driving with no tail lights. Jeffries’ vehicle had a large portion of its front bumper missing, only one working headlight, and was dripping fluid. Investigation revealed recent property damage along Jeffries’ route with pieces of her vehicle left behind. The officer noticed Jeffries’ speech was slurred. Jeffries admitted to having two or three mixed drinks several hours earlier. A second police officer also noticed Jeffries’s speech was slurred and that her eyes were bloodshot, she was unsteady on her feet, and her breath smelled strongly of alcohol.

Jeffries’ performance on field sobriety tests indicated she was impaired. The police arrested Jeffries and took her to jail. Jeffries provided a breath sample on the Intoxilyzer 8000, which showed a BAC of 0.217. The city charged Jeffries with aggravated DUI, failure to have operational headlights and taillights, failure to carry proof of insurance, and failure to give notice of an accident causing property damage.

During discovery, Jeffries requested the calibration and testing records for the Intoxilyzer 800 for three months prior to her arrest, any dates it was taken out of service, and any reason it was removed from service. The city produced this information. Additionally, Jeffries requested production of all Computer Online Breath Records Archive (COBRA) data for the Intoxilyzer 8000 for the twelve months prior to her arrest. The city did not have access to that data and did not produce it, leading Jeffries to file a motion to compel. Jeffries did not request the printed records, which are maintained by the state Forensic Science Division.

Jeffries moved in limine to exclude her Intoxilyzer 8000 breath test results or dismiss her DUI charge as a sanction for failing to produce the COBRA data. Jeffries argued the city intentionally spoliated, or destroyed, the COBRA data by not purchasing software that would allow it to access the data, and by periodically deleting the Intoxilyzer 8000’s internal memory card. Alternatively, she argued the city violated her due process rights for these same reasons. 

Procedural Posture & Holding: The municipal court held a hearing and took testimony, after which it denied Jeffries’ motion, holding that (1) the state is not required to maintain information in the most convenient format for Jeffries; (2) spoliation was not applicable; and (3) Jeffries did not establish that the COBRA data was exculpatory evidence under Brady. Jeffries was convicted of DUI, and appealed the denial of her motion to the district court, which affirmed. Jeffries appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms. 

Reasoning: Jeffries argues the municipal court erred by failing to analyze whether the COBRA data was potentially useful and by concluding it was not exculpatory under Brady. The COBRA data Jeffries requested was not apparently exculpatory before it was destroyed. Although the COBRA data underlying Jeffries’ breath test could have conceivably contributed to her defense, the chance it would have provided exculpatory evidence is extremely low.

To establish a due process violation, the defendant must prove she was “unable to obtain comparable evidence by other reasonably available means.” Here, both experts explained that an expert could have conducted a comparable statistical analysis without the additional COBRA data. Absent bad faith, which Jeffries did not prove, the state’s failure to preserve or make available “potentially useful” COBRA data does not rise to the level of a due process violation.

Spoliation is not applicable in criminal proceedings governed by the rules of criminal procedure, and Jeffries does not advance legal authority for the Court to apply a civil remedy to her criminal proceeding.