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Spoliation of evidence is the destruction, alteration, withholding, or hiding of evidence by a party involved in a legal dispute. This can be done purposefully, in bad faith, or it may simply be an oversight on the part of one of the parties involved with the legal proceedings. Purposeful spoliation can lead to legal consequences against the party who has committed the action, including criminal prosecution and further civil litigation. Spoliation of evidence can also often lead to a negative implication against the party responsible, which can be just as damaging as the evidence itself may have been.
Whether performed to purposefully mislead individuals involved with a legal proceeding, or merely as an oversight, spoliation of evidence typically serves to alter the potential outcome of a legal hearing. For example, in a civil case in which someone is suing the manufacturer of a coffeemaker that overheated and exploded, burning the person, the plaintiff may have disposed of the coffeemaker. Since this coffeemaker would have been important evidence in the hearing, the disposal of the device would be considered spoliation of evidence. Even if this was not done in bad faith, and was merely an oversight by the plaintiff, it can lead to several negative consequences.
Among the greatest consequences of spoliation of evidence is the allowance of negative implications against the person. This means that the defense in the prior example can legally claim that the plaintiff must have disposed of the coffeemaker on purpose, and imply that this was because the coffeemaker did not explode, using this idea to discredit the plaintiff’s claim. The defendant can also call for a dismissal of the case on the grounds that it is unable to properly defend against a suit since the item cannot be fully considered. In this type of case, the spoliation of evidence could easily lead to the plaintiff losing the case without further consideration.
Spoliation of evidence can also be grounds for further legal action against a person, both criminal and civil. Someone who destroys important legal evidence in a criminal investigation may be prosecutable under criminal codes for tampering with evidence and interfering with an investigation. There are also civil laws in some areas that allow a party involved with a case in which spoliation of evidence has occurred to bring a lawsuit against the person or company responsible for the spoliation. This depends on the statutes of a country or region, however, and such torts may not always be viable.