Spoliation of evidence

In law, spoliation of evidence is the intentional or negligent withholding, hiding, altering, or destroying of evidence relevant to a legal proceeding.[1] Spoliation has two possible consequences: in jurisdictions where the (intentional) act is criminal by statute, it may result in fines and incarceration for the parties who engaged in the spoliation; in jurisdictions where relevant case law precedent has been established, proceedings possibly altered by spoliation may be interpreted under a spoliation inference.

The spoliation inference is a negative evidentiary inference that a finder of fact can draw from a party's destruction of a document or thing that is relevant to an ongoing or reasonably foreseeable civil or criminal proceeding: the finder of fact can review all evidence uncovered in as strong a light as possible against the spoliator and in favor of the opposing party.

The theory of the spoliation inference is that when a party destroys evidence, it may be reasonable to infer that the party had "consciousness of guilt" or other motivation to avoid the evidence. Therefore, the factfinder may conclude that the evidence would have been unfavorable to the spoliator. Some jurisdictions have recognized a spoliation tort action, which allows the victim of destruction of evidence to file a separate tort action against a spoliator.[2]

Spoliation is often an issue in the context where a person claims he has been injured by a defective product which he then discarded or lost.[3] In that circumstance, the defendant manufacturer or distributor may move to dismiss the case on the basis of spoliation (instead of just having to rely on the plaintiff's usual burden of proof, the argument being that any testimony of plaintiff's witnesses would not overcome the spoliation inference born of the lost evidentiary value of the missing product itself).[4]

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See also


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • spoliation — spo·li·a·tion /ˌspō lē ā shən/ n 1: the destruction, alteration, or mutilation of evidence esp. by a party for whom the evidence is damaging 2: alteration or mutilation of an instrument (as a will) by one who is not a party to the instrument… …   Law dictionary

  • spoliation — /spowliyeyshan/ The intentional destruction of evidence and when it is established, fact finder may draw inference that evidence destroyed was unfavorable to party responsible for its spoliation. State v. Langlet, Iowa, 283 N.W.2d 330, 333. Such… …   Black's law dictionary

  • spoliation — A material, but unauthorized, alteration of an instrument by a stranger without privity with any of the parties to the instrument, such being without effect upon the validity of the instrument if it can be shown by evidence what the language was… …   Ballentine's law dictionary

  • spoliation — n. 1 a plunder or pillage, esp. of neutral vessels in war. b extortion. 2 Eccl. the taking of the fruits of a benefice under a pretended title etc. 3 Law the destruction, mutilation, or alteration, of a document to prevent its being used as… …   Useful english dictionary

  • suppression of evidence — Relief obtained upon motion in preventing evidence illegally secured from being introduced in a case. 29 Am J2d Ev § 425. The failure of a party to testify or to produce available witnesses, his destruction or spoliation of evidence. 29 Am J2d Ev …   Ballentine's law dictionary

  • Digital evidence — Evidence Part of the …   Wikipedia

  • Demonstrative evidence — Evidence Part of the …   Wikipedia

  • Character evidence — Evidence Part of th …   Wikipedia

  • Real evidence — Evidence Part of the …   Wikipedia

  • Public policy doctrines for the exclusion of relevant evidence — Evidence Part of the …   Wikipedia


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