15A-268. Preservation of biological evidence.

(a) As used in this section, the term "biological evidence" includes the contents of a sexual assault examination kit or any item that contains blood, semen, hair, saliva, skin tissue, fingerprints, or other identifiable human biological material that may reasonably be used to incriminate or exculpate any person in the criminal investigation, whether that material is catalogued separately on a slide or swab, in a test tube, or some other similar method, or is present on clothing, ligatures, bedding, other household materials, drinking cups, cigarettes, or any other item of evidence.

(a1) Notwithstanding any other provision of law and subject to subsection (b) of this section, a custodial agency shall preserve any physical evidence, regardless of the date of collection, that is reasonably likely to contain any biological evidence collected in the course of a criminal investigation or prosecution. Evidence shall be preserved in a manner reasonably calculated to prevent contamination or degradation of any biological evidence that might be present, subject to a continuous chain of custody, and securely retained with sufficient official documentation to locate the evidence.

(a2) The Crime Laboratory shall promulgate and publish minimum guidelines that meet the requirements for retention and preservation of biological evidence under subsection (a1) of this section. Guidelines shall be published no later than January 1, 2010, and shall be reviewed and updated biennially thereafter. Law enforcement agencies and the Conference of Clerks of Superior Court shall ensure the guidelines are distributed to all employees with responsibility for maintaining custody of evidence.

(a3) When physical evidence is offered or admitted into evidence in a criminal proceeding of the General Court of Justice, the presiding judge shall inquire of the State and defendant as to the identity of the collecting agency of the evidence and whether the evidence in question is reasonably likely to contain biological evidence and if that biological evidence is relevant to establishing the identity of the perpetrator in the case. If either party asserts that the evidence in question may have biological evidentiary value, and the court so finds, the court shall instruct that the evidence be so designated in the court's records and that the evidence be preserved pursuant to the requirements of this section.

(a4) If evidence has been designated by the court as biological evidence pursuant to subsection (a3) of this section, the clerk of superior court that takes custody of evidence pursuant to the rules of practice and procedure for the superior and district courts as adopted by the Supreme Court pursuant to G.S. 7A-34 shall preserve such evidence consistent with subsection (a1) of this section. Upon conclusion of the clerk's role as custodian, as provided in the applicable rules of practice, the clerk shall return such evidence to the collecting agency, as determined in subsection (a3) of this section, in a manner that ensures the chain of custody is maintained and documented.

(a5) The duty to preserve may not be waived knowingly and voluntarily by a defendant, without a court hearing, which may include any other hearing associated with the disposition of the case.

(a6) The evidence described by subsection (a1) of this section shall be preserved for the following period:

(1) For conviction resulting in a sentence of death, until execution.

(2) For conviction resulting in a sentence of life without parole, until the death of the convicted person.

(3) For conviction of any homicide, sex offense, assault, kidnapping, burglary, robbery, arson or burning, for which a Class B1-E felony punishment is imposed, the evidence shall be preserved during the period of incarceration and mandatory supervised release, including sex offender registration pursuant to Article 27A of Chapter 14 of the General Statutes, except in cases where the person convicted entered and was convicted on a plea of guilty, in which case the evidence shall be preserved for the earlier of three years from the date of conviction or until released.

(4) Biological evidence collected as part of a criminal investigation of any homicide or rape, in which no charges are filed, shall be preserved for the period of time that the crime remains unsolved.

(5) A custodial agency in custody of biological evidence unrelated to a criminal investigation or prosecution referenced by subdivision (1), (2), (3), or (4) of this subsection may dispose of the evidence in accordance with the rules of the agency.

(6) Notwithstanding the retention requirements in subdivisions (1) through (5) of this subsection, at any time after collection and prior to or at the time of disposition of the case at the trial court level, if the evidence collected as part of the criminal investigation is of a size, bulk, or physical character as to render retention impracticable or should be returned to its rightful owner, the State may petition the court for retention of samples of the biological evidence in lieu of the actual physical evidence. After giving any defendant charged in connection with the case an opportunity to be heard, the court may order that the collecting agency take reasonable measures to remove or preserve for retention portions of evidence likely to contain biological evidence related to the offense through cuttings, swabs, or other means consistent with Crime Laboratory minimum guidelines in a quantity sufficient to permit DNA testing before returning or disposing of the evidence.

(a7) Upon written request by the defendant, the custodial agency shall prepare an inventory of biological evidence relevant to the defendant's case that is in the custodial agency's custody. If the evidence was destroyed through court order or other written directive, the custodial agency shall provide the defendant with a copy of the court order or written directive.

(b) The custodial agency required to preserve evidence pursuant to subsection (a1) of this section may dispose of the evidence prior to the expiration of the period of time described in subsection (a6) of this section if all of the following conditions are met:

(1) The custodial agency sent notice of its intent to dispose of the evidence to the district attorney in the county in which the conviction was obtained.

(1a) The custodial agency has determined that it has no duty to preserve the evidence under G.S. 15A-1471.

(2) The district attorney gave to each of the following persons written notification of the intent of the custodial agency to dispose of the evidence: any defendant convicted of a felony who is currently incarcerated in connection with the case, the defendant's counsel of record for that case, and the Office of Indigent Defense Services. The notice shall be consistent with the provisions of this section, and the district attorney shall send a copy of the notice to the custodial agency. Delivery of written notification from the district attorney to the defendant was effectuated by the district attorney transmitting the written notification to the superintendent of the correctional facility where the defendant was assigned at the time and the superintendent's personal delivery of the written notification to the defendant. Certification of delivery by the superintendent to the defendant in accordance with this subdivision was in accordance with subsection (c) of this section.

(3) The written notification from the district attorney specified the following:

a. That the custodial agency would destroy the evidence collected in connection with the case unless the custodial agency received a written request that the evidence not be destroyed.

b. The address of the custodial agency where the written request was to be sent.

c. That the written request from the defendant, or his or her representative, must be received by the custodial agency within 90 days of the date of receipt by the defendant of the district attorney's written notification.

d. That the written request must ask that the evidence not be destroyed or disposed of for one of the following reasons:

1. The case is currently on appeal.

2. The case is currently in postconviction proceedings.

3. The defendant will file a motion for DNA testing pursuant to G.S. 15A-269 within 180 days of the postmark of the defendant's response to the district attorney's written notification of the custodial agency's intent to dispose of the evidence, unless a request for extension is requested by the defendant and agreed to by the custodial agency.

4. The case has been referred to the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission pursuant to Article 92 of Chapter 15A of the General Statutes.

(4) The custodial agency did not receive a written request in compliance with the conditions set forth in sub-subdivision (3)d. of this subsection within 90 days of the date of receipt by the defendant of the district attorney's written notification.

(c) Upon receiving a written notification from a district attorney in accordance with subdivision (b)(3) of this section, the superintendent shall personally deliver the written notification to the defendant. Upon effectuating personal delivery on the defendant, the superintendent shall sign a sworn written certification that the written notification had been delivered to the defendant in compliance with this subsection indicating the date the delivery was made. The superintendent's certification shall be sent by the superintendent to the custodial agency that intends to dispose of the sample of evidence. The custodial agency may rely on the superintendent's certification as evidence of the date of receipt by the defendant of the district attorney's written notification.

(d) After a hearing held in response to a defendant's written request that the evidence not be destroyed in response to notice pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, the court may enter an order authorizing the custodial agency to dispose of the evidence if the court determines by the preponderance of the evidence that the evidence:

(1) Has no significant value for biological analysis and should be returned to its rightful owner, destroyed, used for training purposes, or otherwise disposed of as provided by law; or

(2) Repealed by Session Laws 2009-203, s. 4, effective December 1, 2009.

(3) May have value for biological analysis but is of a size, bulk, or physical character as to render retention impracticable or should be returned to its rightful owner.

(e) The court order allowing the disposition of the evidence pursuant to subdivision (d)(3) of this section shall require the custodial agency to return such evidence to the collecting agency. The collecting agency shall take reasonable measures to remove or preserve portions of evidence likely to contain biological evidence related to the offense through cuttings, swabs, or other means consistent with Crime Laboratory minimum guidelines in a quantity sufficient to permit DNA testing before returning or disposing of the evidence. The court may provide the defendant an opportunity to take reasonable measures to preserve the evidence.

(f) An order regarding the disposition of evidence pursuant to this section shall be a final and appealable order. The defendant shall have 30 days from the entry of the order to file notice of appeal. The custodial agency shall not dispose of the evidence while the appeal is pending.

(g) If an entity is asked to produce evidence that is required to be preserved under the provisions of this section and cannot produce the evidence, the chief evidence custodian of the custodial agency shall provide an affidavit in which he or she describes, under penalty of perjury, the efforts taken to locate the evidence and affirms that the evidence could not be located. If the evidence that is required to be preserved pursuant to this section has been destroyed, the court may conduct a hearing to determine whether obstruction of justice and contempt proceedings are in order. If the court finds the destruction violated the defendant's due process rights, the court shall order an appropriate remedy, which may include dismissal of charges.

(h) All records documenting the possession, control, storage, and destruction of evidence related to a criminal investigation or prosecution of an offense referenced in subdivision (1), (2), (3), or (4) of subsection (a6) of this section shall be retained.

(i) Whoever knowingly and intentionally destroys, alters, conceals, or tampers with evidence that is required to be preserved under this section, with the intent to impair the integrity of that evidence, prevent that evidence from being subjected to DNA testing, or prevent production or use of that evidence in an official proceeding, shall be punished as follows:

(1) If the evidence is for a noncapital crime, then a violation of this subsection is a Class I felony.

(2) If the evidence is for a crime of first degree murder, then a violation of this subsection is a Class H felony. (2001-282, s. 4.; 2007-539, s. 2; 2009-203, s. 4; 2009-570, s. 30(a), (b); 2012-7, ss. 1-3; 2013-360, s. 17.6(f); 2015-247, ss. 10(a), (b).)