A former engineer has been charged with destroying over 200 emails that were requested by prosecutors and investigators in the 2010 BP Gulf oil disaster. One of those emails reported that the spill was far worse than had been reported by BP.

According to CNN, Kurt Mix faces charges that he intentionally destroyed evidence that had been requested by investigators. Notably, the emails included his assessment that there was too much oil flowing out of the damaged well for the "top kill" procedure to contain the spilling crude. His estimated flow of over 15,000 barrels per day (in the destroyed email) was far different than the 5,000 barrels reported by the company. Authorities also allege that his emails reported the "top kill" was not working although BP was telling everyone that it was.

Here’s the take away: if someone is investigating you, or your employer, and if you have emails, text messages, notes or other documents, expect that they will be requested by authorities and that you will have to produce those documents. Destroying the evidence in this digital age is virtually impossible and illegal.

Which brings us to the bigger question: should you be trying to hide the truth? The fifth amendment to the constitution protects you from having to be a witness against yourself, but it does not shield you from having to produce all documents you have control over. Electronic discovery in both civil and criminal cases is a major issue. It is costly and time consuming to search computers, phones and tablets for documents relating to a case, but that is part of the cost of today’s electronic age. 

If you have a question about how to handle electronic evidence in a civil or criminal case, get some help from an attorney with experience in this area. It is not uncommon to find that there are hundreds of thousands of emails and text messages to be reviewed in a big civil or criminal matter, so getting control over those documents is critical.

And don’t try to destroy the evidence by pressing delete. The documents will still exist on a server somewhere and the government if very good at getting to those copies of your messages.