OF JUDGMENT: 02/13/2017
OKTIBBEHA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JAMES T. KITCHENS JR.,
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: SANFORD MASON (PRO SE)
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
IRVING, P.J., WILSON AND TINDELL, JJ.
In 1982, Sanford Mason was tried and convicted of the crime
of rape in the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court. The jury
returned a guilty verdict and also found that Mason should
serve a life sentence. The court sentenced Mason to serve a
life term without parole as a habitual offender. The
Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed Mason's conviction and
sentence on direct appeal. Mason v. State, 440 So.2d
318 (Miss. 1983).
In 2013, Mason filed an application in the Mississippi
Supreme Court for permission to file a petition for
post-conviction relief in the circuit court. His application
sought DNA testing of certain evidence allegedly available.
The State agreed that Mason should be allowed to file a
petition in the circuit court, and a panel of the Supreme
Court granted Mason's application for leave to proceed.
Mason v. State, No. 2013-M-00253 (Miss. June 10,
After Mason filed his petition in the circuit court, the
court appointed counsel to represent him. Mason's
attorney searched diligently for a rape kit and other
physical evidence related to the case, but no such evidence
could be found. The circuit court held a hearing on February
6, 2015. The circuit clerk and witnesses from the City of
Starkville Police Department and the Oktibbeha County
Sheriff's Department all testified that they, along with
Mason's attorney, searched diligently for physical
evidence from the case but had found no such evidence. A
former deputy circuit clerk from Oktibbeha County testified
that sometime after 1989, and probably closer to 2000, there
was significant flooding in the county courthouse. Raw sewage
had spilled from a bathroom in the tax assessor's office
into an exhibit room located below, and about twenty-five
percent of the items stored in the exhibit room were
destroyed or unsalvageable. The former deputy circuit clerk
testified that, based on her contemporaneous handwritten
notes, she believed that the physical evidence from
Mason's case was destroyed as a result of the
flooding. During the hearing, Mason and his attorney
acknowledged that there was no proof that any of the evidence
was destroyed intentionally. Mason also agreed that his
appointed counsel had done all that she could to search for
After the hearing, the circuit judge entered an order closing
the case. The judge found "that no physical evidence
remains in this case to be tested because of its apparent
physical destruction." The judge further found
"that the destruction was not an intentional act of any
party"; rather, the flooding of the courthouse exhibit
room years after Mason's trial had made "any attempt
at preservation impossible." As there was no evidence to
be tested, the court found that Mason's petition for
post-conviction relief was moot. Mason filed a notice of
appeal. On appeal, he contends that the destruction of the
rape kit and other evidence collected during the
investigation of his case violates due process.
This Court addressed a similar claim in Chapman v.
State, 47 So.3d 203, 209 (¶¶21- 23) (Miss. Ct.
App. 2010), cert. denied, 63 So.3d 1229 (Miss.
2011). In 2005, Chapman sought DNA testing of biological
evidence related to his 1982 rape conviction. However, no
such evidence was available because it had been destroyed
pursuant to a court order in 1985. Id. at 205
(¶¶2-3). This Court first noted that our
Legislature had enacted procedures and requirements regarding
the preservation of DNA evidence, but the law was not enacted
until 2009, years after the evidence in Chapman's case
was destroyed pursuant to a court order. Id. at 209
(¶21) (citing Miss. Code Ann. § 99-49-1). The same
is true in this case. Therefore, as in Chapman, the
2009 law "has no application here." Id.
In Chapman, we also discussed that, at least prior
to a conviction, "[t]he State has 'a duty to
preserve evidence which might be expected to play a
significant role in the suspect's defense.'"
Id. at (¶22) (internal quotation mark omitted).
However, to establish a violation of this duty, the defendant
must show, among other things, that the State "acted in
bad faith in failing to preserve the potentially exculpatory
evidence." Id.; accord Ariz. v.
Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51, 58 (1988) ("[U]nless 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.").
Chapman's claim failed because there was no evidence of
bad faith on the part of the State. Chapman, 47
So.3d at 209 (¶23). As the circuit judge in this case
found, the same is true here. Therefore, the circuit court
correctly ruled that Mason is not entitled to post-conviction
C.J., IRVING AND GRIFFIS, P.JJ., BARNES, CARLTON, FAIR,